Qatar Launches Cord Blood Cell Collection
The country of Qatar is in the final stage of launching a national cord blood stem cell collection and storage program for the benefit of the Qatari community. The program will give all Qatari parents the opportunity to donate their babies cord blood to a community bank. “Those donated units would then be made available to support the development of stem cell transplantation in the country and meet the need for ethnically matched units, ” said Remi Corlin, Virgin Health Bank’s chief executive officer.
Virgin Health Bank, the only licensed establishment of its kind in Qatar, is actively engaged in the development of the national program with a number of key stakeholders including the Supreme Council of Health. Virgin Health Bank has been collecting transplant quality cord blood cells for families in Qatar since September 2009.
“We started banking at our state-of-the-art stem cell processing and cryogenic storage facility at Qatar Science & Technology Park in Doha in August 2011, ” Corlin said. He pointed out that Virgin Health Bank already has a very successful family program with significant penetration and level of acceptance across the Qatari community.
“Interestingly, the vast majority of participants in our family program are Qataris which illustrates that our awareness-building activities have worked well with local families, ” he said. Doctors treating members of the Arab community who require a stem cell transplant have historically found it very difficult to find an appropriately matched stem cell unit. Though there are over 20 million registered stem cell donors globally, less than 50 are registered in the Gulf countries.
“So, statistically the chance of finding a matched unrelated donor for an Arab patient is virtually zero. What we would offer is the very first Arab ethnic stem cell bank in the world, ” Corlin said. Virgin Health Bank is currently collaborating with all maternity hospitals in Doha and expects to commence operations with Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Al Khor Hospital by February and eventually add the new Wakra Hospital to the network.
“HMC’s Women’s Hospital in Doha accounts for the majority of births in Qatar, more than 16, 000, out of which over 40% are Qataris, ” he said. “Our operational model which includes close relationships with the hospitals and state-of-the-art processing is working extremely well. Important to the success of transplants are the number of cells used and their viability and we have a proven track record for producing high quality stem cell units.”
A number of families have already come forward offering to donate their babies’ cord blood. Corlin said, “And that is without us doing anything to stimulate that response from the community. This demonstrates that people understand the good that can come from a cord blood donation. They are actively approaching us and asking ‘how do we donate.’”
During a recent presentation at Al Khor Hospital, a senior consultant obstetrician declared that when a national program is launched, she would do everything she could to make sure all of her patients donated.