A new stem cell lab in Cape Town, South Africa, has renewed the debate over stem cell banking in the country.
The facility, Cryo-Save South Africa, will store umbilical cord tissue and stem cells from umbilical cord blood; both sources are being used more frequently in transplantation and regenerative medicine worldwide.
'Internationally, trends reflect the importance of stem cell banking. In the USA, transplants performed on patients, younger than 18 years of age show more than 50 percent of stem cell transplantations has cord blood as source', Louis Rehrl, managing director of the company said.
However there are doubts that it will benefit the local society. 'The two times that we could have used locally banked cord blood samples for patients who needed transplantation, they were of sub-optimal quality and thus not used', said Professor Nicolas Novitzky, head of the haematology division at the University of Cape Town and chairman of the South Africa Stem Cell Transplantation society.
He continued: 'South Africa needs a public cord bank that is available to all, particularly those under-represented in world registries, which are those belonging to the indigenous populations of Africa'.
Moreover, legal issues concerning storage and stem cell research in South Africa threaten the development of the facility. A feasibility study for a public bank is being conducted at the University of Pretoria and Professor Michael Pepper, who is overseeing the study, said that South Africa is operating in a 'regulatory vacuum' because legislation on stem cell storage, research and use is yet to be finalised.
The new laboratory is the result of the joint venture between Cryo-Save, the leading international family stem cell bank and the first stem cell bank to be established in the country, Lazaron Biotechnologies. Patients' samples can be stored in the Cape Town lab or in Cryo-Save's headquarters in Belgium.