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BabyCord Providing a lifeline to safeguard future family health

1.2 BabyCord
The BabyCord facility, located in Amman, was constructed using reinforced steel and concrete for security. (Photos: BabyCord)
BabyCord, Jordan’s first biobank, providing stem cell and tissue cryopreservation services, is emerging as the go-to place to preserve life-saving cells in the region. The bank, which started as an umbilical cord blood and tissue storage facility, is growing to become a leading medical and research facility.اضافة اعلان

In 2016, after more than 11 years working for a stem cell bank in Boston, Dr Maher Sarraf established BabyCord in Jordan to enhance opportunities for innovative medical applications and treatments in the MENA region using stem cells isolated from umbilical cord blood and tissue.

Dr Maher Sarraf, founder of BabyCord.

According to Sarraf, stem cells, especially embryonic ones, are significant because they are unspecialized cells with the rare ability to differentiate into 200 types of specialized cells including blood, brain, muscle, and bone cells, which can be induced naturally or experimentally to regenerate and repair damaged tissues. More than 80 diseases, including inherited genetic disorders, immune system disorders, and some cancers like leukemia, can be successfully treated with stem cells. Additionally, they provide tremendous therapeutic potential for conditions like cerebral palsy and autism that are still undergoing clinical trials.

While stem cells can be obtained from a donor’s bone marrow, the sample must be a 100 percent match, unlike stem cells extracted from cord blood, the doctor said. What is more, bone marrow collection is an invasive procedure that requires the use of anesthesia, which is uncomfortable and painful, as opposed to the collection process from umbilical cord blood and tissue, which is non-intrusive and pain-free for both mother and child in normal and cesarean deliveries.

BabyCord is a biobank providing stem cell and tissue cryopreservation services. 

“It is one of the most life-affirming developments, because what used to be discarded as clinical waste —the placenta and umbilical cord — is now harvested as a reservoir for highly effective, regenerative medicine,” he said.

If a parent misses the chance to preserve a child’s stem cells at birth, it is not a catastrophe. Stem cells can also be extracted from other sources such as milk teeth. So if your child has a wiggly tooth that eventually falls out — you can keep it for stem cells.

Cord blood can be used as a treatment for not just the child, but the entire family — including parents, siblings, and maternal and paternal grandparents — for a lifetime. The extracted cord blood contains genetic receptors specific to each person, called Human Leukocyt Antigen (HLA). Usually, these receptors are identical to the child’s and match first-degree relatives: siblings, father, and mother, at a percentage of 25 to 100 percent.  For a family that includes the child, siblings, parents, and grandparents, there is a high probability — 40 percent — that at least one family member will be diagnosed with a condition that can use stem cells for treatment.

The process
So where does BabyCord come in? The company supplies customers with a cord blood collection kit prior to a baby’s due date. The assigned BabyCord on-call nurse will bring an additional collection kit and help the physician with the collection once the delivery starts. After the baby’s delivery and after the clamping and separation of the umbilical cord, a needle attached to the collection bag is inserted into the center of cord and the placenta, causing the blood to flow into it. The bag gets packaged in specialized padded boxes and transported to the lab less than an hour from the time of collection to optimize the number of viable stem cells recovered.
“It is one of the most life-affirming developments, because what used to be discarded as clinical waste —the placenta and umbilical cord — is now harvested as a reservoir for highly effective, regenerative medicine,”
Each cord blood unit is assigned a barcode identifier that is traceable throughout the processing and preservation procedure to prevent any cross-contamination. Once the stem cells are separated from the blood, they are collected in a specialized biocompatible multi-segmented cryogenic storage bag in preparation for cryopreservation (the process of freeze-storing cells at very low temperatures) and storage. The initial freezing process is computer-controlled at a pre-set rate followed by storage in -196°C high-capacity liquid nitrogen tanks.

One major feat of BabyCord as a biobank is the provision of treatments for infertility caused by chemotherapy and radiotherapy among cancer patients. “We address the severe infertility issues that result from radiation therapy since it kills reproductive cells in both sexes (eggs and sperm) when it is administered to the pelvis or the abdomen. We surgically remove the ovaries or testicles and cryopreserve them till the therapy is finished,” Sarraf explained.

“Furthermore, as a biobank, we don’t only preserve the physical tissues, but also serve as a medical research center, a data and information storage, a hub for medical experience exchange and a genetics center,” he added.

BabyCord has earned accreditations from both the US Food and Drug Administration and the US American Association for Blood Banks. It is continuing to develop as an important center in the region, equipping parents, children, and entire families to face life’s uncertainties.

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