“The bankruptcy and mismanagement of other companies involved in the cryopreservation of stem cells are ruining our sector,” said Dr. Luca Mariotta, Scientific Director of SSCB, in an interview published in the newspaper “TicinoNews” on 27 April. This after unpleasant events that affected and still affect the sector of preservation of blood and umbilical cord tissue.
Following the closure of several intermediary companies that had stored the stem cells collected at delivery from many families with third parties, the SSCB, which has had a policy of transparency for years, decided to open the doors of its biobank to show journalists how and where the stem cells of the families who entrust themselves to us are stored.
Während des Interviews wies Dr. Luca Mariotta darauf hin, dass es bei der Auswahl der Biobank, der man seine Stammzellen anvertrauen möchte, wichtig ist, die Zertifizierungen zu überprüfen, über die sie verfügt. Seit mehr als 10 Jahren ist die SSCB FACT NetCord akkreditiert, eine spezielle Akkreditierung für die Konservierung von Nabelschnurblut, die für öffentliche Banken erforderlich ist und strenge Kontrollen durch externe Inspektoren vorsieht, die den gesamten Kryokonservierungsprozess überprüfen.
In addition, SSCB is certified according to GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice), the special certification for the preservation of umbilical cord tissue.
Finally, Dr. Damiano Castelli, Medical Director of the SSCB, spoke about the hybrid bank pilot project involving the SSCB and the Bern Public Hospital.
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“We offer concrete help for families”
Following the case of the stem cell preservation company that disappeared into thin air, Swiss Stem Cells Biotech takes a stand: “Such a case harms the sector, we offer help to those affected”.
“These somewhat shady actors are damaging our entire sector. We truly believe that we can help many families with our work. There are more than 80 recognised diseases for which blood stem cells are used and more than 300 clinical trials in which cells from umbilical cord tissue could be used”. This was stated by Luca Mariotta, Scientific Director of Swiss Stem Cells Biotech in Vacallo, a private bank involved in the preservation of stem cells. SSCB further comments in relation to the article on Genico.
Last week, Ticinonews reported on a young couple searching for their baby’s cells after the “Genico” company they had contracted with disappeared. Cantonal pharmacist Giovan Maria Zanini expressed concern about Switzerland’s free-market policy in such a sensitive area.
“We do not demonise private companies”.
In response to our interview, Swiss Stem Cells Biotech shares the following in a written statement: “While we share the need to increase the number of donations to public banks, which should be able to provide high quality samples that can be made available to the general public in clinical applications, especially in paediatric onco-haematology, we do not believe that this is a good idea. Nevertheless, we believe it is reductionist to reject, and in some respects even discourage, the decision of an expectant mother who, when donation is not possible, decides to preserve for her unborn child an endogenous biological resource, simply because it is a service offered by private companies”.
Blood cells and tissue cells – a distinction
Luca Mariotta therefore emphasises an important distinction: there are umbilical cord blood cells, which only require notification for storage, and umbilical cord tissue cells, which require authorisation from Swissmedic and are not stored in public banks. The latter are called mesenchymal cells and can give rise to tissues such as cartilage, bone and muscle.
“We are active in both areas,” Mariotta clarifies. “So anyone can check the authorisation in question. As far as blood cells are concerned, there is a non-mandatory FACT Netcord certification that we can show. It is the most highly recognised certification and 69% of transplants performed are FACT Netcord accredited.” We ask if it is not just a business: “No, it is a medical service, an insurance for the future. It is scientifically proven that there are different applications and each family clearly chooses this service freel
“The controls are in place for those who work correctly”.
This means that the sector is not a jungle and that one can be consciously informed. However, this has not prevented Genico from operating not only with Famicord in Contone, but also with Swiss Stem Cells Biotech, and even from collaborating in the past, although not without problems. “We were also an aggrieved party in that collaboration,” Mariotta continued. “So we can say that we have gene-compliant samples. If needed, we can confirm this with the families.”
The hybrid bank pilot project
But what distinguishes a private bank from a public bank? In the first case, the family pays an insurance policy to have their cells available in case of need. In the second case, they are donated and made available to everyone. But there is a third alternative: a pilot project being carried out by Swiss Stem Cells Biotech itself and the Inselspital in Bern under the leadership of Professor Daniel Surbek: a hybrid bank. “There are both organisational and financial advantages,” explains the medical director of Swiss Stem Cells Biotech and former head of the Red Cross Transfusion Service, Dr Damiano Castelli. “The selection criteria for a public bank are extremely strict, only a very small proportion of these samples are accepted into a public bank.”
But how would this work? If a patient in need of a sample proves to be compatible anywhere in the world, the family that deposited the cells could decide whether or not to donate them and would receive compensation if they agreed. “The experimental part will soon be completed and we will try to offer Ticino families the possibility of storing their children’s cord blood stem cells in this hybrid system”.