When StemCord, a private cord blood bank, was founded 20 years ago, the only cells that were of interest to them were the hemopoietic stem cells (HSCs) or blood stem cells. Transplanting these into the bone marrow or blood has proven to be an effective treatment modality for childhood cancers like leukemia, blood disorders, immunodeficiency syndrome, and metabolic disorders.
There’s been a lot more development since, shares Dr. Leong See Odd, one of the company’s founders, when he visited Manila this month. Researches in recent years indicate that another type of cells, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) found in the umbilical cord tissue, have the unique ability to rapidly regenerate and differentiate themselves into various tissues and organ cells, including heart, nerve, cartilage, bone, muscle, liver, and fat tissue. Dr. Leong says MSCs have proven to be useful in treating sports-related injuries (e.g., ligament, tendon injuries) and for its antiaging benefits.
He says MSCs work like repair cells. “If there’s any damage, you need workers to come to repair. And these cells are very smart. If there’s a stroke, there’s damage in the brain, these cells will automatically go up to the brain to repair the damage.”
The cells can be administered intravenously, Dr. Leong tells ANCX. “For joints, ligaments, and muscles, it can be done thru direct injections. It can also be injected on the face to reap its aesthetic benefits. It depends on what is the need and where is the organ.”
But another important breakthrough he’s looking forward to, says Dr. Leong, is how cell and gene therapy can possibly treat serious medical conditions like cancer. “Right now, if it’s advanced breast cancer, there is no chance of a cure, so this is another possible treatment option which could give the patient a chance of long-term survival,” he says.
The kidney specialist says there are clinical studies being conducted proving the benefits of cord-derived MSCs in treating organ failures such as liver cirrhosis, or even a kidney, lung, or heart problem. “If you’re suffering from kidney failure, you’d go for a transplant or dialysis. But if it’s heart failure, a heart transplant would be very difficult,” he says. “So we hope that more and more studies will come through that will prove the benefit of using this to help those who suffered from heart failures, lung problems.”
According to StemCord, there are more than 1,000 ongoing clinical trials involving MSCs, and more than 6,000 articles have been published, which further emphasize the potential for MSCs in future stem cell therapies.
These developments underscore the importance of both cord blood banking and cord stem cell banking. With cord blood banking, the blood collected is from the umbilical cord of a newborn at birth. This contains a rich source of stem cells – mainly HSCs. With cord stem cells banking, the MSCs are extracted and cultured from the umbilical cord.
“Stemcord is here to ensure and safeguard the health of our family,” says StemCord SG Philippines’ Chief Operating Officer, Phoebe Te. “We always say we hope you never need to use it—just like a spare tire. But if ever someone in the family does get sick, you have another option for treatment.” Cord blood stem cells can potentially be used to treat other biological family members.
Te says Filipinos have been recognizing the benefits of stem cell science and cord blood banking. “In the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in outlook, giving more emphasis to health and disease prevention,” she says. This corresponds with their mission as a company “to provide life-changing technology.”
Among StemCord’s clients are Robina Gokongwei-Pe, Senator Grace Poe Llamanzares, Tessa Prieto-Valdes, Lea Salonga, and Judy Ann Santos.
“We all get sick from time to time. One never knows, one day I might have the need to use it or at least my relatives or my spouse,” says Gokongwei-Pe. “Of course, one hopes that time never comes but when it does, I wanted to be prepared. Cord Blood Banking simply increases the treatment options for my family.”
StemCord SG Phils. Corporation is now located at High Pointe Medical Hub in Mandaluyong City. The move to a bigger space is in line with StemCord’s objectives of expanding regionally. “This will also bring StemCord closer to meet the needs of the parents in the Philippines,” says Dr. Leong See Odd.