“There is a need to store more stem cells”
“There is a need to
store more stem cells”
—Colin Mc Guckin,
scientific director, Cryo-Save Group
Stem cells have for long
been a subject of controversy but at the same time have
generated curiosity among scientists who have patiently been
working on stem cells for all these years to find remedies for
With the recent lifting
of the ban on stem cell research by President Barack Obama, stem cell
research is expected to get a new fillip in the form of federal
funding. We talk about this and more with Prof. Colin Mc Guckin,
president and co-founder of Novus Sanguis Consortium, which brings
together leading adult stem cell researchers to work on
treatment of human diseases. Prof. McGuckin has 20 years of experience
in stem cell research and tissue bioengineering and was recently
appointed as the scientific director of Cryo-Save Group.
In your research
career spanning 20 years, what have been some of the advances in stem
cell research worldwide?
Twenty years ago, only a handful of diseases were being treated with
umbilical cord blood stem cells. Today, over 80 diseases are treatable
or supportable; the advances that have been made are staggering, after
achieving this we have to take stem cell banking very seriously. It is
now possible to store cord blood stem cells for many years, which can
then potentially be used again to treat the individual’s or
their sibling’s life. Tissues taken from it can be used to
grow a number of organs and repair damaged ones. Though research is
still in its infancy, the future is really bright. I am proud and
excited to be working in a field of medicine that can contribute to the
health of our children.
How do you see the
controversy surrounding human embryonic stem cell research?
Embryonic stem cell research is getting lot of hype in the media. The
stem cell research using cord blood cells is more realistic and is
likely to benefit patients. Of course, stem cells are not the whole
answer for future medicine. There are some diseases that cannot be
cured by treatments, so we always recommend patients to pay strict
attention to the advice of the doctor.
How can stem cells
help drug discovery and cut costs?
New drugs can be tested in test tubes itself and not on animals and
later, on humans. After all, we are different from animals
and what may work on lab rats may not work on human beings. Also, there
is a certain danger involved in using human volunteers. Mini-livers or
any other organ grown this way, using stem cells, can be used by
pharmaceutical companies to test new drugs and help contribute to human
How will healthy
regulatory environment, funding and public private partnerships enhance
stem cell research?
Public-private partnership is the key; it has been clearly demonstrated
that tissues taken from cord blood and the cords themselves have
immediate uses to benefit a large number of people. We are happy to
work with the Indian government to help advance this. Indian government
shows willingness to help develop a framework for stem cells, but of
course the work of any government is complex and we cannot expect these
things to happen overnight. For that reason, I believe that we have to
look at private companies to help us with stem cell banking to ensure
the health of our children. We have to get new therapies and we must
work with the government to make sure that no patient is treated in the
wrong way, or with a treatment that is not safe. This is very important!
How will the lifting
of federal restrictions on stem cell research in the US boost the
The development in stem cells research in the US will help other
governments across the globe to move in the same direction. I am not
confident on embryonic research as it will create a tissue line
matching to the host. We have to wait and see.
Stem cell research and cord blood based stem cell therapy is still
nascent in India. How will India cope with this?
India has a long history of medical innovation and a willingness to
look at new ideas. The stem cell treatment will bring more benefits to
India, which has high birth rates and huge population. Many people in
India have not stored their stem cells, not in public banks or in
private stem cell banks, and this affects the development in stem cell
therapy. I came to India to highlight this and help to make people
aware of what they could be achieving.
Cryo-Save’s objective is to bring all the
researches that are happening in our labs in EU to reach the common man
in India quickly. Our lab in Bangalore is GMP certified. Although the
Indian government does not require this yet, other governments do, and
Cryo-Save felt it was important not to cut corners, but to do it
correctly and well. We want to bring in therapies to India from our
research labs without much delay. We also planning to give training to
doctors in India.
How do you see the
future of stem cell research?
Stem cells may not cure everything because proper medication and
hospitalization is equally important. There is a need to store stem
cells, because if we don’t have stem cells in the banks, then
many people will not benefit from the new treatments. In Type I
diabetes, children between 7-10 years of age are affected. The attacks
are in the pancreas and the affected children cannot produce insulin
properly. For such children, cord blood is directly infused into the
circulatory system and it helps against the damage in the pancreas. But
this treatment facility is not available across the world and it stress
the need to store the cord blood in the first place.
After spending years researching regenerative and tissue engineering, I
have realized that there is still a need to do a lot more.
There is a need to store more stem cells. Germany has stored more cord
blood than India; the population in Germany is much lesser than India.
Now, we have the ability to store many human tissues, such as the
umbilical cord itself, and in the future, possibly other human tissues.
In future, stem cells will play a crucial role in treatment. So, I
dream of a day when we will have cord blood banks in every major city
in the world to help protect the health of our people. Let’s
hope that this will happen in India.