Public cord-blood banking becomes a reality in Chennai

Published in The Hindu on January 1, 2009

Dr. Srinivasan - R. Prasad
Our target is to collect 35,000 public cord blood units in five years’ time, says Dr. Srinivasan. – Photo: R. Prasad

 

Public cord blood banking in India has got a great fillip after the Chennai based Jeevan Stem Cell Bank has been recently licensed to collect cord blood units for both public and private storage.

“We have already collected 13 units for public storage,” said Dr. P. Srinivasan, Chairman of Jeevan Stem Cell Bank. It has collected 8 units for private storage.

Main focus

The accent for the Jeevan Stem Cell Bank is to collect more number of units for public use than private. It has earmarked 70 per cent of its capacity for storing public cord blood units.

Public cord blood bank, which works much like blood banks where units donated by anybody can be bought for use by anybody else for a fee, has been much favoured even by the American Academy of Paediatrics.

In its recommendations in 2007, much like its earlier recommendation nine years ago, the Academy made a strong case for public cord blood banking.

Public banking favoured

The Academy even went to the extent of clearly stating that storing cord blood for self-use or for use by a family member at a later date should be “discouraged.”

The reasons for the Academy favouring public cord blood banking are simple and straight forward. The chances of self-use when stored in private banks are slim — 1 in 1000 to 1 in 2,00,000 or less.

That by itself should be reason enough for people not to store for private use unless and otherwise an older sibling is already suffering from a disease that can be cured by using cord blood stem cells.

Storing for private use has one more problem. Since most of the conditions that might be treated/cured by using cord blood stem cells already exist in the infant’s cord blood.

In other words, the stem cells found in the cord blood are pre-conditioned to develop the diseases that children who have donated them suffer. They are thus unfit for clinical use.

Despite the Academy supporting public cord blood banking, Jeevan Stem Cell Bank has to depend on private cord blooding to cross subsidise its operations. It will charge Rs.70,000 for private banking. The other source of funding will be in the form of donations.

Donations

It has already got about Rs.50 lakhs in the form of donations from three Chennai based organisations and one foundation based in the U.S.

“Our target is to collect 35,000 public cord blood units in five years’ time, said Dr. Srinivasan. But why should it take 5 years to collect 35,000 units? “Availability or the willingness of people to donate for public storage is not a problem,” he said, “but it is the fund required for collecting, testing and storing the units that will be the limiting factor.”

According to him, it will cost Rs.40,000 to collect, test and process a single unit.

Despite the cost involved, Jeevan Stem Cell Bank intends to help the needy. “We will provide it free of cost to those who cannot afford to buy it,” he said, “and for those who can afford, it will charge on a cost recovery basis.”

The advantages

The advantages of public cord banking are numerous. With the number of aliments likely to be treated using cord blood stem cells increasing by the day, public cord blood banking is an ideal way to make the best use of umbilical cord blood that will otherwise be dumped.

And when the number of units stored in public banks increases, the chances of finding a matching unit also increase. This then should be a prime driver for storing more units. “Only donations from people can increase the number of units that can be stored,” he said.

For research

Using stem cells for treating diseases is only one aspect to it. Public cord blood units can be used for research as well.

“We are in discussion with a few research organisations based in India and abroad for using them for research,” said Dr. Srinivasan.

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