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Brazil Expands Umbilical Cord Blood Banks. Country Depends 90% on Imports.

By the beginning of next year, Brazil’s public system of umbilical cord blood banks (Brasilcord) will be expanded by the start-up of blood banks in Ribeirão Preto and Campinas, both in the interior of the state of São Paulo.

The system is currently formed by units in the National Cancer Institute (Inca), regarded as the hub of the system, and the Albert Einstein Hospital, in the same state.

This information was furnished by the head of the Inca Bone Marrow Transplant Center, Luiz Fernando Bouzas. He believes that the expansion of public umbilical cord blood banks in Brazil can reduce the country’s dependency upon imports of this material. According to Bouzas, this dependency currently amounts to 90%.

"Umbilical cord blood is being used more and more as a source of stem cells for bone marrow transplants," he said.

According to Bouzas, when a person doesn’t have a donor in the family, he or she must resort to looking for a donor on the list of voluntary donors, who are adults capable of donating this material, or in the umbilical cord blood banks. More than half of the blood used in Brazil for transplants when there is no family donor is umbilical cord blood.

The cost nowadays of an imported stem cell unit is around US$ 30,000, equivalent to 70,000 reais. Whereas in Brazil, the cost of freezing a unit is US$ 1,500 – approximately 3,500 reais. "In other words, there is a significant difference between seeking it abroad and storing it here."

Bouzas pointed out that since September, 2004, 10% of the umbilical cord blood used in transplants in Brazil has come from the Inca blood bank. "This is an important fact. If the other blood banks begin operations, we are certain that Brazil will save money in the search for foreign sources and will acquire agility in finding donors within the country itself."

Besides the two blood banks in the state of São Paulo, the Ministry of Health is analyzing projects for umbilical cord blood banks in the Clinical Hospitals of the University of Porto Alegre and the Federal University of Paraná and the blood centers of Pará, Pernambuco, and Minas Gerais. "They are projects under consideration for earmarking resources and incorporating into the system," Bouzas explained.

According to the Inca specialist, the average cost of creating an umbilical cord blood bank, from the planning stage (construction and equipment) to full operation, comes to US$ 666,000 (1.5 million reais).

Agência Brasil

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