South Africa’s first state-of-the-art human stem cell bank (from cord blood) opens in Cape Town early next month.

Now parents of newborns will be able to take out health insurance of a different kind by storing umbilical cord stem cells at the bank which is not only the first in the country, but the first and only one on the continent.

The stem cells of newborn babies, which are contained in the blood of the umbilical cord, will be frozen and can be used later in the treatment of over 45 diseases, including a wide range of cancers, genetic diseases, immune system deficiencies and blood disorders, should any of these be contracted by the child.

The bank, owned by Lazaron Biotechnologies, includes a laboratory, a storage facility and offices and is at the Tygerberg Hospital complex.

Daniel Barry, a researcher and Stellenbosch University lecturer who heads the bank, said already two pregnant women had agreed to the procedure which involved taking a sample of cord blood within a 15 minute window period after the child is born.

Barry said that cord blood collected from a newborn had a one-in-four chance of matching the cellular makeup of siblings, providing potential relief in these cases.

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