Jan. 19th, Mumbai:
With about 550 million people in poverty, it's safe to say that a lot of Indians don't have much in the bank-- but that's about to change. Soon, Indians will have the opportunity to bank their babies' umbilical cords for free, which is priceless when it comes to health.
While the Bush administration is limiting stem cell research at home, India is opening their arms to welcome partnerships with some of the best brains in America. Being from the United States, I would lower my voice a bit when telling you: these brilliant, young, liberal scientists who are pioneering new stem cell research in India are...Canadians. Eh? Yes, Canadians. They’ve come out on top again.
Following in the footsteps of Canada ’s James Till and Ernest McCulloch who proved the existence of stem cells in the 1960s, Dr. Jeffrey Turner and Dr. J. E. Davies are setting high standards in the latest mesenchymal stem cell technologies. Ontarian Premier Dalton McGuinty is also doing his part as head of the Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI). Together, these three visionaries hope to start a global trend when it comes to big philanthropy on a cellular level.
"What we see as a tremendous resource of life-giving cells is being discarded as medical waste everyday," remarks Dr. Turner, CEO of Tissue Regeneration Therapeutics (TRT). Dr. Turner is joined by Dr. Davies (TRT President) and McGuinty in Mumbai to partner with Indian officials in developing a national policy on the deployment of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in India. They plan to facilitate the creation of a national MSC bank that will be accessible to all Indians, free of charge, by summer 2009.
Instead of throwing the umbilical cord in the wastebasket, parents will have the opportunity to donate their newborn's cord to a national MSC bank where the cord perivascular cells (HUCPVCs) will be extracted and cryogenically preserved in nitrogen at -200 degrees for 15 to 20 years. In return for the donation, the parents will have free access to stem cell treatment on a later basis, should their child become sick.
"It is a cost-effective treatment on a massive scale," Dr. Turner emphasizes. Hundreds of thousands suffer from auto-immune disorders that can be treated with the use of MSCs. In India, this is especially relevant as there has been a sharp rise in health-related issues along with the rapid growth in the subcontinent's development. Over the past 10 years, for example, India has significantly improved the quality of public sanitation. While this is clearly a positive development, scientists have noticed that the quick change has taken its toll on the immune systems of Indians. "An Indian’s immune system is insulted with an incredible number of bacteria every day, beginning with the day they are born. Thus, they develop an iron-strong immune system. As India adopts higher standards of cleanliness and public sanitation, the immune system becomes weaker, leaving individuals at risk of developing auto-immune disorders, such as Crohn's disease," states Dr. Turner.
Luckily, MSCs can regenerate into 200 types of tissues, thus creating a solution for many of these disorders. While the stem cell therapy may not be a cure-all, it will almost certainly reduce the symptoms and flare-ups that can be debilitating to patients.
Not only are human umbilical cords an ethical source of MSCs, they are also a much denser source than bone marrow, the current gold standard. "Bone marrow is a very rich cellular smorgasbord that gives rise to a wide variety of different cells, including MSCs," explains Dr. Turner," Yet in adults, the number of MSCs is small: about 1 in 100,000. So if you needed a billion MSCs, it would be possible to use bone marrow but it is a completely impractical source." With the emerging MSC bank, the standard for stem cell extractions could very well shift from bone marrow to umbilical cords. It's no wonder that Indian officials have declared MSC research and technology a "national priority." Will the USA follow suit or will India become another place that Americans visit as medical tourists? We’ll keep you posted on policy changes and flight deals to Mumbai.
For more information, visit http://www.tissue-regeneration.com