“It’s a no brainer,” said Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, when asked why she’d decided to bank her umbilical cord blood after her baby was born. “It’s a simple but very precious gift we can give to our children. Medical progress is growing and will continue to grow. We already know how helpful stem cells extracted from cord blood can be; so it was very natural and easy for us to make that choice,” she said.
Speaking at a press meet to launch a public stem cell banking venture by LifeCell, a stem cell bank, Ms. Bachchan lauded this initiative, saying it would have a large social impact and address the dearth of stem cells in the country.
Under this initiative, said Mayur Abhaya, CEO and managing director of LifeCell, parents will be encouraged to donate their cord blood after their baby is born. The blood will be collected, stem cells extracted and stored by LifeCell. “A public cord blood inventory will be created and when needed, patients and their families can find a match in it, and the stem cells can be used,” he said.
While the collection and storage will be free, the company plans to sell the stem cells to patients who need it. “The sale costs will also help us store more cells,” Mr. Abhaya said.
LifeCell plans to partner with at least 100 hospitals across the country and encourage donation. “We intend to have an inventory of 10,000 units over the next three to five years. The idea is to have a diverse inventory so as to help more people,” he said.
Cord blood is extremely rich in stem cells. These cells can be used be used to treat over 80 medical conditions including thalassemia and leukemia, LifeCell officials said, and research indicates it can be used for cerebral palsy, heart and brain conditions too. Of the 1 lakh units the company has stored, about 30 units have been released for transplants so far.
Globally, one million stem cell transplants have been performed and India too is catching up said Mr. Abhaya.
Last year, the Tamil Nadu government announced a grant of Rs. 9 crore to Jeevan Blood Bank and Research Centre for its public cord blood bank.