Bangalore: A professor of regenerative medicine, Colin McGuckin rose to fame in 2005 when his research group made the world’s first so-called mini-liver from cord blood stem cells. McGuckin says research on cord blood—blood obtained from the umbilical cord at birth—has been his vocation for 20 years. Until recently, he was with the Newcastle University in the UK, known for its embryonic stem cell research, but moved to France and set up Cell Therapy Research Institute in Lyon.
As president of the Paris-based Novus Sanguis Consortium, which brings the world’s adult stem cells researchers and clinicians together to work on certain diseases, he works as an opinion leader on the field. He recently joined the Netherlands-based cord blood bank Cryo-Save Group, which has an Indian subsidiary, as scientific director and is visiting several Indian hospitals.
Increasing awareness: Prof. McGuckin says he was amazed that some local clinics in India claimed cures for all sorts of conditions, even erectile dysfunction, through stem cell treatment. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Horrified at how some Indian clinics are transplanting stem cells and claiming all sorts of cures, including that of erectile dysfunction, McGuckin spoke in an interview about why only storing cord blood is not enough, and that government and clinicians should make use of them. Edited excerpts:
Why should an average, healthy family bank its newborn’s umbilical cord blood?
Ten years ago, only a handful of diseases could be treated with cord blood; now there are 85 disease conditions that can be supported by cord blood stem cells. My team has grown parts of the liver, pancreatic islets, brain and 20 other tissues that can one day treat people. If we don’t have cord blood, how will we do it?
Then why not encourage public blood banks rather than private ones?
We shouldn’t expect public banks to do everything. Nor should we expect the public health systems to pay for every new development when they are barely able to pay for the care of the old and the children. I don’t think stem cells will cure everything... In future, they will be a part of the therapy.
At the same time, cord blood has lot more potential. For instance, it can tell us much about the child on Day 1. Now when motherhood in late-30s is common, we’ve found that the cord blood of children of young mothers is different from those of older mothers; the latter has lesser number of immune cells. In that case, it’s better to keep the child for monitoring in the hospital, rather than discharge the same day.
You were part of the British delegation on stem cells last year. How do you think India is progressing?
Many (in the delegation) feared what they’d see, but people here are a great more educated than most people think. Medical doctors understand that embryonic stem cell is a research tool. It’ll be 100 years before it gets into clinics routinely.
But I was amazed when people came to tell me that they were running clinics here on behalf of Chinese clinics or were sending people to China or Thailand for stem cell treatment. Some local clinics even claimed cures for all sorts of conditions, even erectile dysfunction. This is crazy. The Indian government should clamp down on these people... Charging people their lifetime’s savings for something which doesn’t help is not the way forward. These people should be put in prison.
What brings you to India?
I am here to increase awareness and tell people that storing cord blood is not enough. When you come in government delegations, things don’t move fast. My institute in Lyon and Cryo-Save India are talking to Apollo Hospitals and others for a joint training as well as research programme. I don’t want to wake up after retirement and think all that I did just remained in the lab.