Stem cell research in Dubai

Between pre-natal classes, check ups and cravings for pickles dipped in Nutella, put some thought into storing your baby’s stem cells

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When I was expecting my first child, I was baffled by the choices my hormonally charged brain was expected to process. Did I want to know the sex of my baby? Would my husband be allowed at the delivery? And really vital ones like should I do pre-natal yoga classes or eat a third doughnut? Which hospital would give me the most TV channels? Thankfully, there was one choice I found easy to make, and that was to store my son’s cord blood stem cells. At the time, there was only one firm offering the service – and it seemed expensive. But the prospect of providing my baby with an exact match stem cell transplant should he need it in later in life, was – to me anyway – a cost worth taking on the chin.

Why did I decide to store my child’s stem cells? Because more than 70 different diseases can be cured using stem cell transplants, which are now commonly used in place of a bone marrow transplant. The procedure provides patients with an exact match, which not only restores their immune systems after cancer treatments, but can also repair damaged tissues. On top of that, experimental treatments using mesenchymal stem cells (those useful in regenerative medicine) include repairing brain damage in children with cerebral palsy, treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. There are also successes in laboratory tissue re-growth. These techniques could eventually be used to cure heart disease, diabetes and even spinal cord injuries. Today, Dubai’s parents-to-be have more choices of cord blood providers than ever before. So armed with a dictionary of medical terms, we attempt to sift through the options.

What to look for in a package Red blood cell depleted stem cells vs whole cord blood: The general medical consensus is that you should store the red blood cell depleted stem cells rather than the whole cord blood. Red blood cells die during the freezing process and extra chemicals must be added to the larger volume of blood to preserve the sample. Some transplant centres are reluctant to accept whole blood for transplants as medical complications can arise from their use. Types of tests: Face it, you will be bamboozled by jargon in this procedure, but basically you need to know how many white cells are in the blood (total nucleated cell count), how many are alive (viability test) and the number of hematopoeitic stem cells (CD34+ count). Anything above CD34+750,000 is considered a good collection of stem cells. This is essential information, so make sure it’s part of your package.

One collection, one transplant: It is extremely unlikely that even a large sample of cord blood will contain enough stem cells for more than one transplant. Don’t listen to providers who tell you otherwise.
Storage location: You may never use the stem cells, but it makes sense to store it in a facility that is accessible to you, both now and in the future.


Who’s out there?

Smart Cells International
A well-established cord blood banking service both here and in the UK, this is the only private storage service in the UAE to have facilitated three successful stem cell transplants.

What does it store? Red blood cell depleted stem cells

Cost? Dhs11,500 (non-refundable Dhs3,500 for collection, analysis and initial storage; remainder for 25 years storage and transport to any transplant destination in the world).

Relevant tests? Yes

Who answers my questions? All potential clients discuss the process with a qualified medical doctor.

Benefits: Expert medical advice, payments spread over 12 to 24 months and storage in the UK’s leading cord blood facility.
Dubai Healthcare City (04 429 8382; www.smartcells.com).

Cryo-Save

One of Europe’s biggest cord blood storage providers, its state-of-the-art processing and storage laboratory opened in Dubai in 2006.

What does it store?
Red blood cell depleted stem cells

Cost? Dhs13,000 (non-refundable Dhs3,000 for collection processing and initial storage; Dhs10,000 for a 20-year storage contract).

Relevant tests?
Yes

Who answers my questions? A sales executive provides clients with a presentation. A medical doctor can answer questions if requested.

Benefits: The stem cells are stored at two separate locations for security purposes – one in Dubai and another in Belgium.
Knowledge Village, Boutique Offices (04 360 4410; www.cryo-save.com).

Dubai Cord Blood and Research Centre

The Dubai Government’s own centre offers cord blood donation and banking. In the last two years, they have banked over 2,000 stem cell units and helped facilitate three successful stem cell transplants.

What does it store? Red blood cell depleted stem cells

How much? Dhs9,000 (non-refundable Dhs1,000 for collection, tests and initial storage. Dhs8,000 for up to 20 years of storage).

Relevant tests? Yes

Who answers my questions?
Qualified medical staff.
Al Wasl Hospital (04 219 3000 / 219 4010; www.dubaicordblood.com).

Benefits: Cost-effective, DCBRC offers storage and processing in Dubai at their state-of-the-art facilities. Parents can donate cord blood to a public bank to be accessed by those in need of a stem cell transplant. This is free, but note that if you choose to donate, there are no guarantees you can use the blood yourself.

Relicord

Accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks, Relicord has the largest and most advanced stem cell storage laboratory in Asia.

What does it store? Red blood cell depleted stem cells and umbilical cord tissue.

How much does it cost? From Dhs9,500 to Dhs12,500

Who answers my questions? Trained customer service representatives and medical doctors.

What do I get? Relicord provides one storage service for the cord blood stem cells and another for umbilical cord tissue, which they say is rich in mesenchymal stem cells. The package for both services includes 21 years storage, sample retrieval and dispatch to any part of the world.

Relevant tests? Yes

Benefits: Relicord is the only UAE-based service to store samples in India. They use a robotic bio-archiving system to reduce margins of error and are the only company in the UAE to offer umbilical cord tissue storage.
(04 397 9751; www.relicord.com / www.rellife.com).

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