Banking on the cell
While the concept of stem cell banking using umbilical cord blood is not new, research has proved that menstrual blood is also rich in self-renewing stem cells used for cell therapy. Tuba Raqshan tracks the trend.
Stem cells, known for their self-renewing ability, are different from other cells in the body. These cells have the unique ability to differentiate into a variety of cells. While most other cells in the body have a specific function, stem cells are blank and can take on the function of any cell in the body, which they are surrounded by. In fact, stem cell banking has now become popular with celebrities who are now preserving the cord blood for their offspring. Sanjay and Manyata Dutt, Suriya and Jyotika are a few of the celebrities who have opted for stem cell banking, a protection against life threatening diseases in the future.
“Stem cell technology is the future of medicine,” says Dr Ajit Kumar, Chief Scientific Officer, LifeCell International, India's first and largest umbilical cord stem cell banking and solutions provider to bring the revolutionary medical breakthrough of umbilical cord blood stem cell banking to the country. Stem cells are special because they can repair lost of damaged cells in all areas of the body. This trend has caught the fancy of populace due to its ability to accordingly repair and divide within the body, as long as there isn’t a glitch in the system caused by ageing, injury of disease. Stem cells are considered to be a breakthrough in regenerative medicine as they have the potential for providing cells and tissues to treat various debilitating, life threatening diseases.
Cord of life
The easiest source of preserving these special cells is the umbilical cord blood. The blood which remains in the newborn’s umbilical cord and even the placenta is banked in impeccable conditions. Previously, at the time of the child's birth, the blood from the umbilical cord alone was considered important and was used to collect stem cells. Later it was identified that even the umbilical cord tissue, which was usually discarded is a rich source of a different kind of stem cells (mesenchymal stem cells).
For a healthy future
Initially, cord blood was known to be successful in the cure for Sickle Cell Anemia, Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia and Multiple Sclerosis but now, it’s considered to have the potential for curing many more diseases, helping people of all ages. However, the doubts about this new technology were set to rest when an eight year old girl from Chennai who was suffering from Thalassemia had been cured with the help of her siblings cord blood. LifeCell also has a state-of-the-art Stem Cell Processing and Banking facility in Chennai, where the stem cells are preserved cryogenically (at -196C) for potential medical use in the future.
Going a step ahead, research indicates that menstrual blood is also a rich source of stem cells. LifeCell’s latest venture, Femme preserves the stem cells from the menstrual blood for a specific period of time. “Experiments performed at the Keio University School of medicine have succeeded in growing sheets of heart muscle from connective tissue cells harvested from menstrual blood. When it comes to growing heart muscle, however, the connective tissue cells in menstrual blood have a success rate 100 times higher than the 0.2 - 0.3 percent for stem cells taken from human bone marrow,” adds Dr Ajit Kumar, Chief Scientific Officer, LifeCell International.
Breaking the barrier
The biggest challenge would be overcoming the mindset of the population which has many superstitious beliefs about menstrual blood. “In India, there is a lot of myths and taboo associated with menstrual blood and our biggest challenge will be to get people to accept and overcome such traditional setbacks. Considering the strong scientific foundation and impressive clinical progress of mesenchymal stem cell research and therapy, we believe that this service will appeal to thousands of women in the country who desire to secure their future health. With the introduction of this new service, we are a step closer to meeting our objective of bringing in the latest potential preventive and proactive healthcare solutions to the country,” says Mr. Mayur Abhaya, Executive Director, LifeCell International.
Ray of hope
Stem cell banking can be looked upon as an investment for a healthy future and protection against life threatening diseases. Actress and cancer survivor, Lisa Ray nods in agreement. “Having undergone stem cell transplantation myself and benefitted from stem cells to battle blood cancer, I am a live testimony of stem cells which has been a new ray of life for many. We should welcome this promising technology with open minds as it could help us conquer life threatening diseases, especially when all other hopes of treatment are given up,” concludes Lisa.
High five for menstrual blood banking
Higher potential compared to similar cells from the bone marrow, and hence can potentially be used across a wider range of applications
Higher proliferative properties compared to similar cells from bone marrow. Allows them to multiply for longer duration without damages to DNA and larger numbers can be obtained on expansion from small initial numbers
Multiple dosages are possible by obtaining unlimited numbers of purified mesenchymal stem cells for therapeutic use for more than once
Painless and harmless procedure allowing simple, easy and convenient collection of menstrual blood
High patient safety since these cells are well tolerated, with no patient deaths, no toxicity or any adverse side effects reported thus holding the potential for a large-scale clinical use