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Chandigarh institute to set up umbilical cord bank

By Divya Ramamurthi

BANGALORE, APRIL 7. The Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGI) in Chandigarh will shortly set up a national umbilical cord bank, giving an impetus to the use of cord blood as an alternative to bone marrow in sourcing stem cells. "We have forwarded a proposal to the Government. We are expecting a favourable response from them shortly," Akshay Anand, Assistant Professor at the PGI, told The Hindu . He is in the city to take part in the India-UK workshop on stem cell research.

In India, this will be the second cord bank. Asia Cryo-Cell, a private organisation, had started a bank in Chennai several months ago. The cord blood that remains in the placenta after birth has sufficient quantities of stem cells to cure several diseases. Studies have shown the success of using umbilical cord stem cells to treat diseases such as leukaemia, lymphoma, various anaemias and genetic disorders.

A more compelling reason for saving cord blood is its ready availability. Also, there is no need for an exact tissue match as is required in bone marrow transplants. In India with the number of births running into thousands, the potential use of stem cells from cord blood is immense, said Mr. Anand.

But, as with all other stem cell research, the use of cord blood also raises ethical questions. Several Western countries are debating whether stem cells from cord blood should be limited only for use by family members or be open to everyone. In India, scientists are concerned that the poor could be exploited to donate cord blood. "We will take cord blood only after we get informed consent from the individual. If the person is illiterate, we will explain the issue to her through pictures," said Mr. Anand. The PGI is looking into developing stem cells from tissue taken from the retina. A laser is directed on the retina of an eye of a rat, the injured retina is taken out and used to develop stem cells, said Mr. Anand. "We are seeing whether by using stem cells, we can grow back the injured cells and replant it into the rat."

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