BioCord, an Israeli start-up, has developed a novel method for collecting more than double this amount of blood from the umbilical cord, which means more illnesses can be treated and potentially more lives saved.
"Stem cells are taken from the cord blood and stored frozen in liquid nitrogen," explains Miki Shacham, the CEO of Ramat-Gan-based Israeli cord blood bank BioCord and the inventor of the new device. "These are first of all for the baby itself, they are a one hundred percent match. But there is a high probability of a match with close family members."
Stem cells are commonly taken from the bone marrow to treat diseases such as leukemia, but these stem cells are already mature; cord blood stem cells are much less mature, only nine months old, which means, says Shacham, "that they are more primitive and so they can become all types of cells," useful for treating a variety of diseases, not just illnesses of the blood.
There are around 80 illnesses that are now being treated with these stem cells, Shacham told ISRAEL21c. The young age of the cord blood stem cells also means a lower match is needed with the donor cells to receive a stem cell transplant, compared with bone marrow stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are even younger and therefore more flexible, but harvesting embryonic stem cells is highly controversial in most countries worldwide.
In initial tests of the prototype, in around seven minutes as much as triple the usual 80ml was collected by the SituGen, enough stem cells to treat an adult. As well as extracting more blood, the device is easier to use than a needle, with only a short time needed to master its operation, says Shaham.
Once receiving the Rambam Medical Center Helsinki Committee approval, SituGen will be tested on around 50 patients over several weeks, although regulatory agencies such as the FDA don''t require such medical devices to undergo clinical trials. Patents application have been filed and Shacham is already in negotiations to market the SituGen, which is single-use and disposable and will cost around $100, through multinational companies that distribute cord blood bank products to the 150 or so cord blood banks around the world.
To fund marketing and production, he is raising $500,000 to add to the $500,000 invested by private investors and the Israeli Chief Scientist. "We are setting up a plant to produce the device in Israel," he says. "Israel is very good at plastic moldings of medical devices."