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Big leap forward on stem cell harvests
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A Chinese biomedical firm has achieved unprecedented capacity to develop large-scale, lifesaving stem cell production with stocks of umbilical cord stem cells hitting nearly 5,000 samples, the Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday.

The Tianjin Angsai Cell and Genome Project Company is the country's first bank for umbilical-cord-blood-derived mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) samples.

MSCs are multipotent stem cells that can be coaxed into developing into most of the 220 types of human cells, and can then be used to treat many diseases including leukemia, heart disease, hepatitis and some forms of cancer.

Stem cell transplant is also the only known cure for leukemia.

A constant stock of 70,000 to 100,000 samples of umbilical cord blood can satisfy current clinical demands for treating child patients of such afflictions in the whole country, Mao Qun'an, spokesman of the Ministry of Health, said on Monday.

"Up to now, stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood have been used in only 400 transplants," he said.

In mainstream transplant therapy, stem cells harvested from donated peripheral blood and bone marrows are most commonly used.

Most of the umbilical cord blood samples in the two-year-old bank are from parents who pay to store samples for their children, a division director of the bank, surnamed Li, told China Daily.

The others are donated by women after giving birth, he said.

Wang Fang is one of the parents who placed samples in the bank.

The 40-year-old decided to give her twin daughters MSCs harvested from her umbilical cord blood.

Her first daughter, a leukemia patient, died from acute repulsion after a marrow transplant.

Such samples still need approval from the authorities, Li said.

"We are still waiting for approval from the State Food and Drug Administration," Li said.

He added that the application to register their umbilical cord-derived MSC stocks as biological products was filed at the end of 2006, mainly for transplants to treat leukemia.

Once approved, it could save marrow donors from the pain involved in bone marrow extraction, Li said.

So far, the country has no regulation on the management of umbilical cord blood.

"Many cords are discarded by maternity hospitals and new moms, most of whom have no idea about the subject," Tan Meng, a doctor at the obstetrics and gynecology department of the Pinghu Hospital of Shenzhen, said.

Only after getting consent from them can we get their samples of umbilical cord blood and store them in our bank, Li said.

Profiteering from umbilical cord supplies is strictly prohibited, as stipulated by the Ministry of Health.

(China Daily, February 22, 2008)

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