Next Biobank has joined hands with the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) to make cord blood available to more South Africans in need. Since the ‘90s, advances in umbilical cord blood technology have made cord blood transplants a viable alternative to conventional bone marrow or stem cell transplants, but up till now, access has been a challenge.
Currently, SABMR has around 73 000 local bone marrow donors, which in comparison to the number of donors worldwide (around 37 million), is exceptionally small. There is only a 1 in 100 000 chance of finding a bone marrow stem cell donor match. Sadly, these odds plummet to 1 in 400 000 for mixed race and ethnic minorities, who are poorly represented on registries. South Africa has one of the most culturally diverse groups of people, which translates into extensive genetic diversity. Most bone marrow registries around the world, including South Africa, struggle to increase the donor pool among ethnic populations. This makes access to cord blood vitally important.
Cord blood has the benefit of requiring a less stringent tissue match than sources of adult stem cells, with only a 4/6 HLA match being required, instead of a 6/6 or perfect match. Sourcing an international cord blood unit can cost up to R1 million which is just not feasible for most South Africans. Having a local repository will make cord blood units available at a much more attainable cost. Cord blood units are also readily available for use by a recipient in need, unlike adult donors who require medical examinations and can opt out of donating at the time.
The Netcells Community Bank will give expectant parents personal access to the cord blood and tissue samples; however the cord blood sample will be HLA typed and listed on the South African Bone Marrow registry, making it available to others in need of lifesaving transplants. As a result, this type of cord banking is offered at a subsidized rate, by Next Biosciences and SABMR. The cord blood unit is used on a first come first serve basis: if the parents need the unit first, they will have access to it, however if a recipient in need is identified by the SABMR first, then the unit will be used by that patient in need.
If the cord blood unit is used by another recipient, the parents will be reimbursed the value that they paid for stem cell banking. The parents will be contacted should a match be identified to inform them that the sample will be used.
It is important to note that there are set exclusion criteria for being able to register with the community bank, which must be evaluated before storing, as attached.
Private stem cell banking will remain at the same price, and the parents will be banking their baby’s cord unit for his or her own use in the future or for use by a family member. In essence, the family owns the cord blood and can decide how they would like to use it. However, once the storage period is up, the parents will now be given the option to list the cord blood unit on the SABMR or continue to store privately.