July, 27 2014 01:08:00

New mothers sign up for stem cell storage

by Ha Nguyen and Thuy Quynh

When she discovered that she was pregnant, To Thuy Hoang in Ha Noi's Hai Ba Trung District decided to store the stem cells from the child's umbilical cord blood at a special bank.

"I was told that these would be very useful for my child in the future for treating various diseases," said Hoang.

The bank she planned to use was established by the Ha Noi Maternity Hospital in co-operation with the National Institute of Haematology and Blood Transfusion (NIHBT).

A hundred stem cells of umbilical cord blood (SCUCB) samples have been stored free of charge in the past two months, said Dr Tran Ngoc Que, deputy director of the bank.

"Taking out the SCUCB after giving birth is safe both for the mother and the child, so almost any healthy mother can do it," he said.

Another woman in the capital's Hoan Kiem District, who would not give her name, said her family (particularly her parents-in-law) were very happy after she sent SCUCB to the bank at the NIHBT last month.

"My son and I felt safe as medical workers worked on us. I felt no pain and have not seen any bad effects," she said.

Many patients, particularly children, have been treated using SCUCB. The Daily Mail reported how the parents of three-year-old Chinese cancer patient Pan Jing decided to give birth to another child so they could use its SCUCB to save Pan's life.

On May 31, Pan's mother gave birth to a child, meaning Pan's life could be saved - although her parents had to pay US$84,000 to do so.

"My child's life is most valuable. I will work hard to pay the debt," the father told the newspaper.

Dr. Que explained that the umbilical cord, which connects a baby in the womb to its mother, runs from an opening in the baby's stomach to the placenta in the womb. The average cord is about 50cm long. Taking SCUCB comes after cutting the child's umbilicus, which was considered a waste in the past.

"Storing SCUCB could help treat blood, heart and joint diseases," said Que.

Currently the NIHBT charges nothing for storage, although users have to pay for any technical procedures. The bank accepts only four or five samples per day, all from women who give birth at the hospital.

"It would be very difficult for us to store SCUCB from those who do not give birth to a child at the Ha Noi Maternity Hospital, because the procedure must be done quickly," said Que.

Women who want to store SCUCB must register at the NIHBT, where they are tested for the liver virus known as HCV and Cytomegalovirus (CMV). This is a common virus that can infect almost anyone; most people don't know they have CMV because it rarely causes symptoms. However, if you're pregnant or have a weakened immune system, CMV is cause for concern.

Almost 60 doctors and midwives in the department have been trained in proper procedures, said Dr. Mai Trong Hung, the department head. He added that the hospital was seeking further co-operation from pregnant women because "this is safe and a very good basis for excellent treating methods in the future".

The NIHBT has successfully used SCUCB for 100 transplants since 2006, said Professor Nguyen Anh Tri, rector of the institute, adding that grafting stem cells to treat malignant blood diseases cost VND200-600 million (US$9,500-28,500), half or one-third the typical price in other countries. — VNS

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