M A I N   N E W S

The cord connection is your lifeguard
India a favoured destination for stem cell banking, say experts

Suresh Dharur
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, February 7
It’s a new-age therapy that has potential to cure several life-threatening ailments. Stem cells, a biogenetic insurance against diseases like Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and even cancer, are evincing keen interest among scientists globally. 

With over 80,000 births a day, India is the largest source for umbilical cord blood ---that houses stem cells --- in the world. This makes the country a favoured destination for stem cell banking.

Experts estimate these banks, which store the lifesaving cord blood samples of newborns for future medical use, will generate Rs 2,700 crore in revenue in the country by 2012, accounting for 17 per cent of the world market.

Routinely discarded at birth, the umbilical cord is a rich source of stem cells which can be harnessed for treatment for several diseases. Stem cells are like all-rounders in cricket, say scientists. They can be called in to bat, bowl and field on behalf of other cells in case of emergency.

They can regenerate into over 200 types of tissues. Several diseases and life-threatening spinal cord injuries can be treated with the stem cell therapy.

The world market for stem cell therapy is projected to increase from an estimated $ 30 billion in 2009 to $ 96 billion by 2015. The US President Barack Obama recently lifted an eight-year-old ban on government-supported funding for embryonic stem cell research, opening floodgates for huge investments in the sector.

“India has all the essential ingredients, including high birth rates and growing public awareness to emerge as a key repository of cord blood for companies across the globe,” says Dr GV Prasad, managing director of PathCare Labs, a diagnostic service provider. Several leading global players are eyeing India to set up stem cell banks.

“In India, the industry put together has banked around 25,000 cord blood units over the last three years. This number is set to increase substantially with increased market reach and awareness and increase in regulatory approvals for stem cells based products,” adds Dr Prasad.

The stem cell banks preserve the cord blood of the new-born babies in specially designed cryogenic vaults at -196 degrees Celsius. They can be retrieved years later for treatment of diseases. 

Stem cells have opened a whole new area of thought in the history of medical treatment. In the field of regenerative medicine, scientists are focusing on using cord blood stem cells for treatment of cancer, brain injury and juvenile diabetes.

With rapid economic growth, widening base of high income group couples, India has huge target population that could be convinced about the benefits of cord blood storage, opines Dr Prasad. The cost of cord blood storage for a 20-year period is around $ 1,500 to $ 2,200.

PathCare Labs has launched the first cord blood bank in Andhra Pradesh. This is South India’s second and India’s fifth facility.

Wonder cells 

l Stem cells are “master” cells that regenerate into over 200 tissues that form organs and body systems
l Used in cure of Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cancer and juvenile diabetes
l Umbilical cord is rich source of stem cells
l Stem cell banks store the cord blood at freezing temperatures; they can be retrieved later



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