Qatar signs deal on Mideast stem cell storage

Virgin Health Bank set to relocate international HQ to Qatar Science and Technology Park.

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By  Andy Sambidge Published  March 9, 2009

Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) has joined forces with Virgin Health Bank to create the world's first source of stem cells for Middle East people.

Qatar parents will be able to have their new born babies' stem cells collected, processed and cryogenically stored under the new agreement.

Virgin Health Bank, which was launched in the UK in 2007, will relocate its international headquarters to the QSTP where it will build a state of the art processing and cryogenic storage facility.

The company said that with the support of local institutes it expects to start storing cord blood stem cell samples from Qatar within the next few months.

The stem cells are obtained from the blood remaining in the umbilical cord after birth and are already being used in treatments for 85 different medical conditions.

The announcement has been welcomed by Qatar's health authorities and religious leaders.

"Stem cells have already proven useful for fighting leukaemia, and are one of the most promising areas for future medical breakthroughs" said Dr Ghalia Al Thani, Minister of Health.

"The Ministry welcomes the Virgin blood bank because it increases the range of medical options available to Qatar's population."

Virgin Health Bank and Qatar's medical authorities are exploring the use of the umbilical cord-blood stem cell bank as part of a national public health programme.

This would create the world's first comprehensive source of stem cells for the indigenous Middle Eastern population, the company said, and would for example, make it easier for clinicians to source a matched tissue typed stem cell unit when a transplant is needed.

Umbilical cord-blood stem cell transplants are increasingly being used in preference to bone marrow for conditions such as leukaemia and thalassemia.

Because Virgin Health Bank's process collects stem cells from ordinary umbilical cords, ethical considerations related to other sources of stem cells are avoided. Its model has been deemed compliant with Shariah law by a Qatar-based Islamic scholar.

Dr Hanan Al Kuwari, managing director of Hamad Medical Corporation, said: "Our goal is to increase the range and quality of public-health services available in Qatar. Virgin Health Bank marks a large step in this direction and I welcome its arrival."

David Macauley, CEO of Virgin Health Bank, added: "We are delighted to have the opportunity to use our skills and technology to help realise the current and future benefits of stem cell therapies for the people of Qatar."

Dr Tidu Maini, executive chairman of Qatar Science & Technology Park, said: "This is a significant decision, and a testament to Qatar's ability to accelerate the world's best medical science. The legacy of our partnership with Virgin will serve the health of Qatar's citizens for years to come."

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