News and Information

Human Stem-Cell Bank Planned for SA
September 2, 2004
Business Day (Johannesburg)

September 2, 2004
Posted to the web September 2, 2004

Carli Lourens , Trade And Industry Editor
Cape Town

South Africans may soon have access to a new form of life insurance policy with plans to establish Africa's first human stemcell bank being launched yesterday.

Stem cells are widely considered to be the next frontier in medical advances, with proponents claiming that these cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing other cells to potentially save lives.

The benefits, safety and ethics of using stem cells, however, are still highly controversial globally.

Stem cells can be harvested from a baby's umbilical cord blood shortly after birth. They can transform into any cell or tissue in humans .

Dr Daniel Barry, head of Stellenbosch University's Animal Biotechnology Laboratory, said yesterday that stem-cell technology was being used to treat more than 40 diseases, including cancer. He said the preliminary cost for using the South African facility would range between R12000 and R29000. This compared well with the use of stemcell banks elsewhere in the world.

South Africans would be able to store cells at two mooted banks, to be developed at a cost of about R6m, possibly in Cape Town and Pretoria as early as next year.

The preliminary storage cost would be R6500 for the first year with a minimal monthly fee being charged thereafter. The idea for the storage bank flows from research being conducted at the University of Stellenbosch.

Barry is a director at the newly incorporated company, Lazaron, which will own and operate the storage bank. Lazaron estimates it could harvest stem cells from as many as half of about 1-million babies born in SA each year.

Lazaron will harvest stem cells from umbilical cord blood, and not from embryos. Embryos are at the heart of the controversy surrounding stem cells as they have to be destroyed in the harvesting process.

The company is also conducting six research projects relating to the use of stem cells to treat patients. Animals are used for research at the moment. If these trials are successful, Lazaron will commence with human trials. Barry said South African legislation provided fully for Lazaron's plans.

Lazaron is 25% owned by the JSE Securities Exchange SA-listed John Daniel, with the balance of shares held by directors and Pathology Group. Lazaron was established in line with the university's policy of commercialising its intellectual property through private partnerships and licensing agreements.

The university will own any intellectual property that emerges from Lazaron's research, and will earn royalties from Lazaron's activities.


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