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Thailand Stem Cell Research

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Thailand Stem Cell Research

Thailand – The future home of stem cell research?

Private hospitals in Thailand are now offering the chance to store stem cells found in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies.

The cord and blood inside is typically thrown aside as biological waste, but in Thailand, a country far from the political views and opinions of the western world, many parents are choosing to store the blood of their babies, perhaps for future stem cell treatments.

Thailand, already a top destination for those seeking first class medical care a at reduced cost, is now home to several start-up companies – Thai StemLife, Cyroviva Thailand, Cordlife and others – already responsible for storing the stem cells of approx 800,000 each year. And due to high birth rates and a large class of affluent parents, the country is certainly well positioned to cash in.

“You have to do this business in places where fertility rates are high,” said Kostas Papadopoulos, CEO of Thai StemLife, which is Thailand’s largest private stem cell bank. “In Singapore, people just don’t have sex enough. And even though purchasing power in Thailand isn’t as good as Europe, America or even North Asia, the fertility rate is quite good.”

large stem cell dish Thailand Stem Cell Research

Thai StemLife’s is just one the companies doing well. Founded in 2005, the company became profitable in two years. Currently storing over 3,300 stem cell samples, the company boosted clientele by 25 percent last year and at charge of almost $3,700 for lifetime storage, Papadopoulos says: “This year, we’re looking at doubling (clients).”

The science behind stem cell treatment therapy a mystery, however, thousands of people all over the world have benefited from their treatments.

There are two kinds of stem cells: embryonic and adult. Embryonic stem cells, which spring from fertilized eggs, divide in the womb until a fetus is formed. These stem cells can be collected but halt the growth of the embryo. For this reason there are many ethical concerns surrounding research involving embryonic stem cells.

Adult stem cells are the type collected from the umbilical cord, and although they’re less versatile, they are still useful for certain medical treatments. However, unless they are harvested from the umbilical cord at birth, adult stem cells are extremely difficult to extract. Liposuction or dialysis are among the methods used to extract adult stem cells later on in life, but neither of these methods can provide the voluminous amounts of the stem cells the umbilical offers.

“After the baby is born, you just insert the needle in the umbilical cord and suck all out all that’s available,” said Somjate Manipalviratn, an obstetrician with Superior A.R.T., a Bangkok infertility clinic.

The umbilical cord blood, a purplish goo, can be easily stored, thawed out, and injected into a patients bloodstream.

Stem cell treatments are thought to benefit people suffering from more than 80 diseases, including leukemia, hepatitis and thalassemia, a blood disease prevalent in Thailand.

Somjate explains to his patients that storing stem cells from the umbilical cord blood of their newborns is like insurance.

“If you can afford it, go for it.” he says. About 80 percent of his patients choose to store their baby’s cord blood:

“Almost all of them have babies at the private hospitals in Thailand….
“The government hospitals aren’t talking about stem cells yet.”

For many parents, the hope that medical breakthroughs will one day provide scientists with effective methods for stem cell treatments, certainly outweighs the cost of lifetime storage. Especially when considering the rate at which technology develops.

In once case, Ian Fox, whose wife is Thai, opted to store his son’s cells.

“We saw some PR literature in the hospital and thought, hey, let’s just do it…

“It seemed wise and it wasn’t terribly expensive.”

His son was then born in with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that left an immobilizing stiffness in his left leg.

The doctors advice for conventional treatment was a lifetime of orthopedic shoes and Botox injections. But the Fox’s thought, ‘There’s got to be a better answer.’

After six weeks of intense research, the Foxes decided to try a stem cell injection. Several weeks later, they said, their son was noticeably more mobile.

The boy, now 3, has also benefited from extensive physical therapy and hyper-baric oxygen treatments. Therefore it’s difficult, to pin-point which treatment spurred his son’s progress.

“We observed fairly rapid improvement after the stem cell treatment…
“But I’m not going to tell you that the stem cell treatment totally cured him. We can’t ever say for sure.”

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