"Cord cell transplants have cured 3500 babies in

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Stem Cells From Umbilical Cords
5/11/04/
F.MERLIN FLOWER
In the future, babies with cancer in India could smile, thanks to an advanced technology
which has reached the Indian shores. Umbilical cord stem cell transplants have cured
children of 45 diseases, mostly different types of cancer, as well as some inherited
disorders of the blood, immune system, or metabolism. Asia Cryo-Cell is offering cord
stem cell storage in partnership with American company Cryo-Cell International.
At birth, blood will be removed from the umbilical cord. Stem cells will be separated
from the blood and stored in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees Celsius. If needed later, they
can help replace the blood cells lost during cancer treatment, for example. Most
transplant recipients are siblings or people unrelated to the donors. Such transplants have
cured 3,500 children in America, said Dr. Saranya Nandakumar, director of Asia CryoCell.
The charge for the separation and storage service will be Rs. 50,990 (US$1,100),
according to Dr. Saranya Nandakumar. This is almost twice the annual income of an
average Indian. She denied the company is targeting only the elite market.
The cost is very high and would take time to penetrate a developing country like India,
said Polani Seshagiri, professor at the Indian Institute of Sciences. The cells will be
stored for 21 years, and the cryo-preservation equipment used is quite expensive, which
justifies the cost, said Seshagiri. However, according to Imtiaz Zaffar, a scientist at the
National Center for Biological Sciences, it is the transplant and the tissue culture which
are costly, rather than the storage.
Sujoy Kumar, professor of genetics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that there
were no legal and moral issues involved as the cells used were not embryonic cells. The
company had patented the process and so can carry on with its research in India, said
Ramesh Murthy, professor at the National Law School of India University in Bangalore.
He added that the company would have to get an approval certificate from the
government. Saranya said the company was still waiting for the certificate.
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