Umbilical cord stem cells were discovered in mid 1970’s, but their first use dates back to 1988. Thirty-one years of history and over 30 thousand transplants.
We’ve met with dr. Luana Piroli, who’s been working as the General Director of a Netcord-FACT accredited biobank for the last 12 years.
Luana, there’s more and more talk about regenerative medicine and the relationship between this “personalized medicine” and stem cells.
What changes have occurred in the last few years from a therapeutic point of view, and what’s needed to guarantee the long-term preservation of these cells?
I call them 30 years of “pure wonder”. The discovery of stem cells has allowed us to read our body right from its original matrix and to learn about the crucial regenerative mechanisms that have led to today’s regenerative medicine.
In addition, the development of genetic diagnostics has enabled us to formulate accurate diagnoses and plan tailored treatments in what’s known as personalized medicine.
What’s personalized medicine?
It’s the planning of a “tailor-made” treatment plan based on accurate genomic diagnostics.
Genome instability, meaning the rupture of the DNA double helix, is common to several tumors.
Gene mutations happen all along our lives and determine changes in our genotype and phenotype depending on their characteristics and interactions with the environment. These mutations may be benign, malignant and sometimes even lethal.
Some even believe that they determine individuals’ natural selection.
Investigating these phenomena – genome instability and gene mutations – allows us to establish reliable diagnoses and consequently program personalized treatment plans.
Is umbilical cord stem cell storage relevant to this?
Yes. By preserving umbilical cord stem cells, we’re also preserving our primary DNA, which is our purest DNA. This is essential to carry out comparative analyses between the DNA collected at birth and what’s subsequently overwritten due to gene mutations occurring over the years. This allows us to determine what happened, what triggered the morbid condition that affects the body.
I consider this as the greatest “wonder” that I witness every day in the world where I work.
All too often we hear about “undifferentiated” tumors, meaning that their primary location is unknown. Standard treatments are consequently used, but they might not be the appropriate ones. However, genetic diagnostics can identify the primary tumor location and allow for a personalized treatment.
And how does regenerative medicine integrate with umbilical cord stem cell storage?
The cord tissue is rich in mesenchymal stem cells. Together with the InScientiaFides Foundation, which I chaired, we have validated a scientific procedure (published on the “Transfusion” scientific journal) to collect, extract and evaluate the potency of WJ-derived MSCs contained in the cord tissue.
It has applications in regenerative medicine and was specifically developed for musculoskeletal conditions.
The multi-differentiating potential of cord tissue mesenchymal cells might allow for multiple future clinical applications in various medical fields, from plastic and reconstructive surgery to orthopedics, cardiology and neurology. With our current scientific knowledge, this potential can only be used within licensed investigational programs.
It’s the treatment of the present and the future.
If parents wanted to entrust biobanks with their children’s umbilical cord as a form of biological insurance for the future, what should they consider in making their decision?
There are essential requirements that a biobank, whether public or private, needs to meet to be able to ensure a long-term preservation of the sample, so that parents can trust their choice.
The first basic requirement is the accreditation with Netcord-FACT, an international, lawfully recognized scientific standard that approves biobanks by validating every step of their procedures, from the in-hospital collection of the sample to its release in case of need.
This validation process also involves audits to verify the biobanks’ actual ability to preserve samples on a long term.
Professionals working at the biobank must be qualified operators and the Medical Director must be a immunohematologist.
NetCord-FACT accredited biobanks are labeled as safe and added to the global NetCord of transplantation centers.
When stem cells are required, the cord blood unit to be used is chosen on the basis of the NetCord-FACT standard accreditation, so as to ensure that the patient receives the highest-quality infused cells available at the moment.
For transplantation centers all over the world, the FACT standards represent a guarantee of clinical and laboratory quality. This applies to all stages of the cord blood unit preservation and release.
Does InScientiaFides comply with this requirement?
InScientiaFides has been Netcord-FACT accredited since its foundation. Our mission is to ensure that parents entrusting us with their biological heritage can one day have it back safely.
In this respect, last March we returned a sample to an 8-year-old child whose stem cells were stored at our bank, in order to diagnose a disease that had affected him. It was deeply moving and confirmed just how important our team’s work is.
Managing a biobank in compliance with the basic requirements and the necessary accreditation levels is wonderfully challenging.