Cord Blood Stream

You formed my inward parts;
You knit me together in my mother's womb.”

Psalm 139:1

I was set to walk on the road of Life
No map in hand and uncertainties rife.

Little by little, my journey shapes
Clouds, bird songs and moonscape -
I tune in to the signposts of Nature.
Before long, it’s Destination. And I’m here.

“The miracle is not just your baby - It’s what c o me s attached,” points out a research organization , highlighting the value of the umbilical cord.

The umbilical cord that connects a mother with the foetus within her womb is cut at the time of del ivery and discarded is rich in ‘ stemcells ’ which is t h e origin of the body’s immune and blood system.

I t is difficult to imagine the umbilical cord which is otherwise discarded as a bio-waste can be a rich source of life-saving elixir for a heal thy future. This has been established through research in the field of biotechnology.

Gone are the days when serious diseases meant no permanent cure but certain death. Thanks to stem cell research, we now know that the possibilities to cure are endless.

I t is not unusual for trees and plants to regenerate cut of f parts. But this may be matched by the marvelous discovery of stem cell therapy with its potential to regenerate lost t issue. The point is that blood in an umbilical cord consists of stem cells that can transform into various types of healthy cell t issue. That t issue may be a treatment for many serious illnesse

History of Cord Blood Transplantation

Umbilical cord blood was first used for transplantation in 1988, in France, for a patient with Fanconi’s anaemia . Since then, cord blood has been increasingly used as a substitute for bone marrow in thousands of successful transplants. Around 6000 recorded transplants have taken place around the world to treat diseases as wide –ranging as leukaemia and anaemia to heart disease, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

Stem Cell Research and Therapy in India

The stem cell research market in India is estimated to be about $540 million by 2010 with an annual growth rate of 15% (Express Health Care, April 2007). From a few institutes two years back, today over 30 institutions are involved in stem cell research. "The Government has invested $8 million on stem cell research over the last two years.

The focus on stem cell research received in India is evidenced by the commencement of a number of biotech companies in India, dedicated to stem cell research and therapy.

LifeCell from Asia CRYO-CELL Private Limited is, headquartered in Chennai. LifeCell is India’s first private sector cord blood bank operating through technical collaboration with CRYO-CELL International, USA, the world’s first and largest private cord blood bank.

Apart from having 18 collection centres across India and one in Dubai, LifeCell is looking to expand into Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

As per press reports, LifeCell has already collected 5,600 cord blood samples from India, Bangkok, Dubai and Singapore, a number that is likely to exceed 10,000 by 2008. Reliance Life Sciences is another company decided to research in the field of stem cell.

Apollo Hospitals of Chennai has tied up with HistoStem, part of the Delaware Corporation, for the development of cord blood stem cell research and therapy in India. His Tostem is also reported to be investing Rs.86 Crores to set up a stem cell research and therapy establishment in Mumbai. Further, collection centres and cord blood banks are likely to be set up by the company in Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi.

Apollo also has a Memorandum of Understanding with StemCyte, a US based company which will set up a laboratory and a $10 million cord blood in either Ahmedabad or Hyderabad.

It is not without reasons that India is fast emerging as a research hub for stem cell. The following are to India’s advantage:

a. India’s large population base with so much genetic versatility. The high birth rate makes potential for huge supply of umbilical cord blood.

b. The patient demand is high and therefore possibilities of clinical application of stem cell research

c. The vibrant pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies, a large intellectual pool of scientific talent and a mature information technology industry, the country can boast of a big platform for research and its clinical application

d. The other edge India has is its cost-effectiveness. A stem cell treatment costing $34,000 in Bangkok costs only $5,000 in India.

However, India is still at a nascent stage with regard to stem cell research as compared to the rest of the world. India would do well to have a rugged law and guidelines on stem cell research apart from and adequate and widespread expertise to administer stem cell therapies.

Hospitals Offering Stem Cell Therapy in India

  • Adyar Cancer Hospital, Chennai
  • AIIMS, New Delhi
  • Armed Forces Medical College, Pune
  • Apollo Specialty Hospitals, Chennai & Hyderabad
  • CMC, Vellore
  • Global Hospitals, Hyderabad
  • Inlanks Hospital, Pune
  • Narayanan Hrudayalaya, Bangalore
  • NIMS, Hyderabad
  • R&R Army Hospital, New Delhi
  • Sanjay Gandhi PGIMS, Lucknow
  • Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai
  • TriCell, SRMC, Chennai

How Safe is Cord Blood Collection?

The umbilical cord blood is collected only after the baby is born and there is absolutely no risk to the other or child a as it involves the collection of blood from the umbilical cord after it has been clamped and cut (post delivery). Since collection of cord blood can take place only at the time of delivery and a collection kit is necessary, advance arrangements have to be made. The collection procedure lasts only 5 to 10 minutes.

What Happens After Cord Blood Collection?

Once collected, the cord blood along with a sample with the mother’s blood must be given over to a cord blood bank such as LifeCell in the prescribed manner. The cord blood must thereafter reach the bank within 36 to 48 hours of collection. There, it is processed, tested, separated and the stem cell samples are cryogenically preserved by freezing them at minus 196 degrees Celsius in liquid nitrogen facilities.

Presently, since cord blood banking is not public, a preservation fee is collected for storage of the sample for a minimum of 21 years.

Who Can Use the Preserved Cord Blood Stem Cells?

Any of the following may benefit from the preserved cord stem cells if found to suffer from a disease that is treatable by stem cell therapy. However, such use is subject to HLA compatibility.

  • Child whose cord blood stem cells have been preserved. The stem cells are the only perfect match for the child from whom they are harvested,
  • Any current or future sibling (brother or sister) of the child. In fact, there is a 1-in-4 chance of the stem cells matching that of a sibling.
  • Parents, grandparents and other family members,
  • Persons unrelated to the baby whose cord blood stem cells have been banked may use the stem cells.

The decision about use of the banked stem cells is with the parents alone.

What is HLA Matching?

Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) antigens are found on most cells in our bodies and are used by the body to recognize which cells belong to the body and which do not. A close HLA match decreases the chance of donor cells being attacked by the recipient’s immune system.

Stem Cell - The Miracle Cell

Around 6000 stem cell transplants have already been carried out worldwide, of which 20 cord blood transplants have been conducted in India. Stem Cell therapies can treat liver, diabetes, eye, kidney, heart,

osteoporosis and neurological conditions apart from cancer. Experimentation for expanded use of stem cells holds greater promise for the future.

Diseases Treatable by Stem Cell Therapy (illustrative)

  • Leukemia
  • Immune System Disorders
  • Anaemia
  • Thalessemia
  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Hodgkin's Disease
  • Many types of cancers

Future Stem Cell Applications (illustrative)

  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

Research is currently on for the following diseases)

  • Cardiac Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Stroke

Donation of Cord Blood Stem Cells

Those who either cannot afford cord blood banking or are disinterested in the idea may at least consider donating blood from umbilical cords. It may definitely and infinitely use someone, somewhere, sometime.

As of now, though, the cord blood banks in India bank samples only for a fee. However, nothing stops parents who have banked their baby’s cord blood stem cells with a bank such as LifeCell to give it in donation to whoever may need it.

What a miracle it would be for a newly born baby – a miracle – to save the life of another human being umbilical cord blood that would otherwise be thrown away.

God hangs the greatest weights upon the smallest wires.”

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

British Philosopher, Statesman & Essayist