Stem Cells – Who Is Crazy? Public or Malaysian Government?

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Apr 29 2007
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Are Malaysian people really crazy over cord blood storage as what the Health Minister Dr Chua Soi Lek claims (reported today)? He is somehow not amused when he said people should not get carried away with the current trend of storing the umbilical cord blood of newborns for future medical treatment. He further said his ministry is concerned about the craze and increasing demand for cord blood storage.
Maybe Dr Chua should do some studies (I hope he knows how to search for info from the internet) on what cord blood can do and the un-charted potential of it. Here are some sites for him to click if he’s too lazy to even move the mouse to search:

If you ask most “educated” doctors, they will advise you not to throw cord blood away. The umbilical cord blood is considered a life saving source of stem cells that are a 100 percent biological match to the newborn. Basically couples have a choice of either discarding the blood, banking it with a private cord blood bank or donating the specimen to public cord bank (obviously Dr Chua’s ministry doesn’t has or planning to have a public cord bank for the benefits of the poor and needy people).

Since the potential and benefits of cord blood are not known to most of the public, discarding the cord blood at the time of birth is commonly done in 99 percent of all deliveries.

What are Cord Blood Stem Cells?

Blood can be collected from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby shortly after birth. This blood is rich in blood stem cells that can be used to generate red blood cells and cells of the immune system. Cord Blood stem cells can be used to treat a range of blood disorders and immune system conditions such as leukaemia, anaemia and autoimmune diseases. Once collected, cord blood can be stored in a cord blood bank and would be available for use by the donor and compatible siblings.

Ethical Issues

Although cord blood stem cells are less versatile than Embryonic Stem cells, their use in research is less controversial as it does not involve the destruction of embryos. Their potential use for cell-based therapies is also attractive as it would be possible to use a patient’s own cord blood stem cells to generate tissue for transplantation, thus avoiding problems with immune rejection.

Saviour Siblings

Controversy has arisen over the practice of genetically selecting embryos created during infertility treatment, for the purpose of using the donor baby’s cord blood to treat an ill sibling. In this procedure, genetic testing is performed to ensure that the embryo will provide cord blood devoid of the genetic defect afflicting the sibling, but which matches the sibling’s genetic make up. The donor baby in this case is sometimes referred to as a ‘savior sibling’.

The first ‘saviour sibling’ to be born in Australia was reported in March 2004. A Tasmanian couple used this technology to have a second child who was free of a genetic condition, Hyper IgM Syndrome. Cord blood from this child could be used to treat the affected sibling. As a result of this selection process carried out Sydney IVF Clinic, the woman started her pregnancy knowing that her baby was free of Hyper IgM Syndrome and would be a potential tissue donor for her existing son.

What are the potential uses of human stem cells?

Most of the body’s specialised cells cannot be replaced by natural processes if they are seriously damaged or diseased. Stem cells can be used to generate healthy and functioning specialised cells, which can then replace diseased or dysfunctional cells.

For example, in Parkinson’s disease, stem cells may be used to form a special kind of nerve cell, a kind that secretes dopamine. These nerve cells can theoretically be transplanted into a patient where they will re-wire the brain and restore function, thus treating the patient.

If Dr Chua is still not convince on the importance of stem cells, then he might want to read this latest news (dates 28-Apr-2007) about how scientist from Canada (I bet Dr Chua will not criticize cord blood stem cells if it is Malaysian scientist who discovered this) made a major breakthrough by successfully mapping the stem cells and now know how normal human being cells become leukemic. By converting normal human blood cells to leukemia stem cells in the lab, it is hoped the process of identifying the right drug to heal leukemia cancer can be shorten and produced to bring joy to human. Read more here.

Dr Chua further claimed that if there’s indeed potential for the use of stem cells, his ministry will study it. The first question I would like to ask him is “Does his ministry has the EXPERTISE to even start producing a medi
cal research on what is stem cells at the first place?”
From his statement that the private Malaysian stem cells storage provider is charging RM 500 a year for the storage, somehow I can smell that he’s envy of such companies. Would he think the same if he holds some stake in these companies? Not that his ministry can provide a cheaper alternative by building public stem cells bank.

I’m sure if his ministry can provide the same service and charge half the price (since he’s complaining the high price the private providers) there would be long queues waiting to subscribe for the service. How much money can his ministry make? Based on StemLife Berhad (KLSE: STEMLFE, stock-code 0137) annual report ended 31-Dec-2006, StemLife stored over 5,000 units of stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood of newborn babies. Supposing Chua’s ministry is charging $200 per unit, he’s making over RM$1,000,000 – and mind you, this is repeat annual sales.

Also, StemLife Berhad (currently the largest stem cell bank in South East Asia in terms of units stored) announced (in the annual report) the type of diseases treated successfully retrieved from its’ bank. The following data proves some of the diseases which were successfully treated by Malaysia’s hospitals from stem-cells released (the quantity of treatments is not shown):

  • 2004 : General Hospital Kuala Lumpur – Leukemia
  • 2004 : Gleneagles Medical Center Penang (GMCP) – Lymphoma
  • 2005 : GIMC – Diabetic foot ulcer
  • 2005 : HSC – Heart disease
  • 2005 : GMCP – Lymphoma
  • 2006 : HSC – Heart disease
  • 2006 : Subang Jaya Medical Center – Heart Disease
  • 2006 : GIMC – Heart Disease and Diabetic foot ulcer
  • 2006 : University Hospital – Thalassaemia major
  • 2006 : GMCP – Leukemia and Lymphoma
  • 2006 : HSC – Heart Disease

As you can see from the simple summary, the number of cases where diseases are cured from stem-cells over the years has been on uptrend. So, how could a Health Minister (himself a doctor) makes such irresponsible claims to confuse the people? If there’s no potential and all these stem-cells is purely “hype”, then the medical specialists in those developed countries who spends millions on it are mainly stupid and morons, aren’t they?

Perhaps the Malaysian government should start preparation to shutdown all these stem-cells storage providers since they’re making money (cheating) out of the public with the hype of it. But these listed companies were approved by the same Malaysian government via Bursa Malaysia (KLSE: BURSA, stock-code 1818) and Securities Commission. Indirectly are we to say Malaysian government is cheating money out of public since the Health Ministry does not even recognize such a business at the first place?

To those who succeed in getting and still keeping some StemLife’s shares, congratulations as you’ve made over 690% profit from the initial IPO of RM 0.33 per share.

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i wish KKM may produce stem-cell bank as well as it has so many benefits

I think that there are theories which suggest cord blood banking have their share of advantages and disadvantages however i personally feel cord blood banking service providers should put more effort on bringing awareness as to what the risks are and how they are avoiding such a risk. Thanks

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