Sweden to create stem cell bank

Sweden's government said on Thursday that it is planning to create a national blood bank containing stem cells from donated umbilical cords, used to treat deadly diseases like leukemia more effectively.

“Such a national bio bank for umbilical cord blood will make it possible to treat many more very sick children, for instance for some kinds of leukemia and immune system defects, which today demand bone marrow transplants,” Health Minister Ylva Johansson told reporters in Stockholm.

Stem cells are nascent cells which can develop into replacement cells that researchers believe could help treat damaged organs and illnesses.

Some 6,000 transplants using umbilical cord stem cells have been done to date worldwide, but only around a dozen have been carried out in Sweden, which so far has been forced to request the stem cells from foreign blood banks.

The government intends to pump about 15 million kronor into setting up the bank at the Sahlgrenska University hospital in the southwestern city of Gothenburg at the beginning of next year.

“It will be voluntary to donate the umbilical cord blood, and I think that many will want to do so since it does not demand an painful procedures,” Johansson said, pointing out that the blood is taken from the umbilical cord after it has been cut.

The decision to set up the bank, which will officially be agreed upon next week, aims to reduce the use of so called private blood banks where parents pay large amounts of money to store their children’s stem cells just in case they one day fall ill.

“The chance that (stem cells stored for personal use only) will be used is one in 20,000,” clinical genetics professor Jan Wahlström said at the Stockholm news conference.

Instead, the Swedish blood bank aims to gather such a wide variety of stem cells that a usable specimen will almost always be available when needed.

“The most important thing is that the national bio bank contains stem cells that fit our entire, diverse population,” Johansson said.