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14 Apr, 2009 05:26

Stem sell banking gains popularity

Replacing worn-out parts of your body could soon be as easy as changing broken car parts. Some people pay thousands of dollars to bank their stem cells, dreaming to stay healthy forever.

Business coach Anastasia Merkulova has invested in the future.

When giving birth to her son three-and-a-half years ago, she decided to store cells from the blood of his umbilical cord.

Anastasia is convinced those stem cells will guarantee her son's future health.

“I believe that in a few years, maybe ten or twenty years, it will be possible to grow a new hand… a new leg, even a new heart,” Anastasia Merkulova explains.

It remains more of a dream than reality – but it may be successful in Moscow's centre of obstetrics, genealogy and maternal-fetal medicine. The centre is one of the most advanced in Russia and is equipped to treat some of the most complicated pregnancies and gynecological illnesses. The centre studies various types of stem cells and also has an independent stem cell bank on site.

The stem cell bank stores the blood containing the stem cells, which is registered, identified and weighed. Various experiments are carried out and specialists wear sealed suits to extract stem cells from the blood. The whole procedure takes just around an hour.

Stem cells are kept in liquid nitrogen and can be stored for more than twenty years in temperatures around 200 degrees Celsius bellow zero.

It costs approximately $2000 to bank a child's stem cells and the annual charge for storage is around a hundred dollars.

“Stem cells are used to produce all the other sorts of cells in our body. They are contained in every tissue, but here we store only the ones taken from a newborn's blood from the umbilical cord. They can renew our blood, help the immune system and more,” explains Dr. Yury Romanov, head of stem cell bank's scientific research department.

In Russia there have been successful cases of treating leukemia. In animal experiments there have been positive results in the treatment of heart conditions and Parkinson’s disease.

“To get rid of a sniper you don't need a tank battalion, you need another sniper. When fighting a group of terrorists it's best to use aviation. It's the same with stem cells. If we're trying to treat brain pathology, we can use only specific types of cells,” says Dr. Gennady Sukhin, head of Moscow’s centre of obstetrics, genealogy and maternal-fetal medicine.

Stem cell treatment is thought to be the most effective when the cells are taken from the patient or close family members. It is an expensive process and finding a donor with matching DNA can take time.

An added difficulty in Russia is the shortage of stem cell banks.

“Knowing our population there has to be two or three hundred thousand samples held in state banks. At the moment there are only a few state banks, and that is obviously not enough,” Dr. Yury Romanov says.