Celebration Stem Cell Centre is creating a buzz as companies and research organizations are looking to set up shop near the facility to create a bio hub in Gilbert.
Dan Henderson, economic development director for the city of Gilbert, said he is getting calls from companies looking to expand there.
“The interest we’re getting in and around the area is tremendous,” he said.
The new center, across the street from Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, is taking its first donated umbilical-cord blood sample this week to begin testing its equipment and operating procedures. The center has been open for about a month, but this is the first time it will take samples, said Sherry Lund, founder and president of the center.
This week, Celebration received contracts from Mercy Gilbert and its two sister hospitals, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix and Chandler Regional Medical Center, putting a process in place to allow women delivering their babies at those hospitals to either donate the unused umbilical cord blood or bank it to fight diseases their babies may develop in the future.
Usually, umbilical cords — rich with stem cells — are discarded after birth. During fiscal 2010, ended June 30, Chandler Regional had 4,051 births and Mercy Gilbert had 2,723 during that period. St. Joseph’s had 5,097 births in 2009.
Lund said Banner Health and John C. Lincoln also are working on agreements to become donor hospitals.
“This is exciting for Arizona,” she said. “We’ll have more donor hospitals … than any other state in the U.S.”
Parents who want to bank their cord blood will pay $1,975, which includes the initial setup, processing, pickup, delivery and banking for the first year. It doesn’t cost anything to donate cord blood for research.
The use of adult stem cells, such as those from umbilical cord blood, does not carry the political controversy surrounding embryonic stem cell research. Former President George W. Bush halted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in 2001. In 2009, President Barack Obama overturned that decision. Obama’s action is being challenged in federal court.
Meanwhile, research on adult stem cells continues to move forward, said Dr. Nabil Dib, director of cardiovascular research at Mercy Gilbert and Chandler Regional. Dib recently completed a Phase I clinical trial for chronic heart failure patients that centered around injecting adult bone-marrow stem cells into the damaged area of the heart. The trial’s premise is that the stem cells will help regenerate the damaged heart muscle. Dib hopes to begin the next phase of the trial soon.
Lund said she created the stem cell center to help supply bone marrow stem cells for Dib’s research.
Dib said he is grateful for those efforts because now he can get 10,000 to 20,000 stem cells from one donor. In his previous research at the Arizona Heart Institute, he took stem cells from the patient’s leg to be injected into the heart. Using the cord blood is faster and more cost-effective, he said.
Lund and her husband, real estate developer Bill Lund, are investing $5 million of their own money into the 5,000-square-foot facility. With six employees, she plans to hire more staff as more stem cell samples are donated.
“We’ll be adding two or three lab techs within the next month,” she said.
The donated samples will go into a registry for the Minneapolis-based National Marrow Donor Program, a nonprofit that matches bone marrow and umbilical cord blood with patients in need of transplants.
But not everyone agrees with banking cord blood for future use.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has said no scientific evidence exists to support the practice. On its website, the AAP warns parents that cord blood banks should comply with national accreditation standards developed by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and state agencies.
Christian Beaudry, Celebration’s director of operations, said several factors have contributed to the controversy surrounding private banking of cord blood. Many private banks are not standardized and do not follow the same quality parameters set up by public banks, he said.
A recent article published in the journal Transfusion reported that only 47 percent of infused cord-blood units from private banks meet FDA banking criteria.
“The Celebration Stem Cell Centre’s private cord-blood banking program will use the same high-qualitystandards that are required for our public banking
program to process and store umbilical cord blood,” Beaudry said. “State-of-the-art technologies, stringent processes and high-quality practices will be implemented to ensure that adult stem cells and cord-blood units are of the very highest quality possible for therapeutic purposes.”
Read more: Celebration Stem Cell could be center of Gilbert biotech hub | Phoenix Business Journal