A southern Indian government hospital is to set up a stem cell research laboratory to treat liver diseases. This is expected to benefit the poor.
The Stanley Medical College in Chennai, capital of the southern Indian state of Chennai, is setting up the laboratory at a cost of Rs.15 crore.
"Stem cell research is growing by leaps and bounds, and government hospitals too should take the plunge," said Dr R Surendran, head of the department of surgical gastroenterology.
The hospital will develop a therapy for end-stage liver diseases, for which the only option now is liver transplant. "We would have a liver transplant centre by December, but the problem with liver transplant is that the donor is also put to a certain amount of risk. One out of 200 donors die," Dr.Surendran noted.
The hospital, he said, will not apply stem cells on patients until they are convinced with the animal trials. "We will have to see if we could isolate stem cells from adult cells first," said Rosy Vennila, professor of microbiology.
The hospital, which handles more than 13,000 deliveries and abortions per year, will use cord blood and placenta as the main source of stem cells for the research. Besides these, a small portion of healthy liver tissues dissected along with the diseased liver during surgeries can also be sources of stem cells, writes Pushpa Narayan in Times of India.
Unlike the cells drawn from the embryo, not all cells in the cord blood or adult tissues are stem cells. "They have to be isolated from other cells," she said. After screening the blood and tissues for diseases like hepatitis, HIV and rubella, the search for stem cells begins. The stem cells would be isolated and later developed in a cultured medium. After sorting the right stem cell, it is injected into animals for preliminary tests.
"It's essential to check if we have the right stem cells because studies have shown that some cells can even cause cancers. But there has been success too. In October 2006, scientists in England created the first ever artificial liver cells using umbilical cord blood stem cells. We are sure we can do the same here," she said.
Given that stem cell treatments are extremely expensive, the new effort would be a welcome initiative in a country where proper healthcare is still the privilege of a minority, it is pointed out.