The Jeevan Stem Cell Bank, based in Chennai, has crossed a major milestone. It has collected 114 cord blood units for public banking. This has been achieved in about eight months since the Bank started collecting the units.

The Jeevan Stem Cell Bank, based in Chennai, has crossed a major milestone. It has collected 114 cord blood units for public banking. This has been achieved in about eight months since the Bank started collecting the units.

The Stem Cell Bank, a unit of Jeevan Blood Bank and Research Centre, collects both private and public cord blood units. The number of units stored under private banking is 31.

“We are hopeful of collecting 1,000 public cord blood units by April next year,” said Dr. Saranya Narayan, Medical Director of Jeevan Stem Cell Bank. “We are getting 2-3 units for public banking every day.”

Contrary to common perception, about 80 per cent of donations to the public banking have come from families belonging to the middle and upper class. “They understand the value of public banking. And this is the proof,” Dr. Narayan said. “We ensure they are well informed that they would no longer have the right over their units once they are donated.”

But Jeevan has a policy in place that will help the families to get the same units that were donated if they require them at a later date, provided they are still available. These units would be provided at a concession.

Dr. Narayan said that over the past few months there was an increased awareness about the Stem Cell Bank among people as well as with doctors. “About 80 per cent of the units we get are through referrals by clinicians. And these are from small, medium and big hospitals,” she said.

The proof that awareness has indeed increased comes from the 26 requests for HLA tissue matching. These requests were not just from within the country. One request came from France and another from Bahrain.

According to Dr. Narayan, all the units are collected for public banking only with prior informed consent of the parents. “This is very important in the case of public banking as the units would be used by someone else or for research,” she said.

Though the Bank has set a 70:30 ratio for storing public and private units, the ratio is skewed towards public banking. This puts more pressure on the Bank to make more funds available for public banking. But this is good news for the larger interests of people. The more the number of units stored under public banking, the more the chances of finding a match for the needy.

Public cord blood banking works much like blood banks where units donated by anyone can be bought for a fee by anybody else. This concept is much favoured by the American Academy of Paediatrics.

In its recommendations in 2007, the Academy made a strong case for public cord blood banking. 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.”

That the chances of self-use when stored in private banks are slim — 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 2,00,000 or less — is the main reason why the Academy favours public cord-blood banking.

But there is strong case to store cord blood for private use if there is an older sibling who is already suffering from a disease that can be cured by using cord blood stem cells.

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

In short, the stem cells found in cord blood are pre-conditioned to develop the same genetic disease that the child suffers from. Hence it is not right to use them for the treatment of the same genetic disease.

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