The first official stem cells bank in Bulgaria - “Saint Lazar”was established in 2005, giving the Bulgarian families the priceless ability to protect the future of their children, using one of the newest achievements of modern medicine, whose full potential remains to be unveiled.
As pioneer in the gathering, processing and preservation of stem cells from umbilical cord blood in Bulgaria, “Saint Lazar” is equipped according to the highest international standards, and is constantly developing the skills of its highly trained specialists.The team leader is Dr. Gurcheva MD, who acquired her stem cells specializations in Paris, Berlin, Hanover and Rome. In 1997 Dr. Gurcheva MD was part of the team, which successfully made the first bone marrow transplantation in Bulgaria, and at the moment is also a national consultant for the government's Agency for Transplantations.
Since its establishment, “Saint Lazar” has been chosen by over 1300 Bulgarian families as the bank with best service and highest security for the stem cells of their children. The analysis over the years shows that there is a perfectly good reason for that - the volumes, stem cells percentages and registered vitality after processing are absolutely identical with those of the leading banks in EU and USA.
The experience and confidence in the abilities of “Saint Lazar” employees led to the creation of a second stem cells bank, which is successfully operating in Macedonia for over two years.
Why “Saint Lazar”
“Saint Lazar” is the first officially accredited bank for gathering, processing and preservation of stem cells in Bulgaria. Our team consists of highly trained and recognized specialists, who aim to achieve the highest possible standards and constant technological upgrades.
All researches and procedures, in connection to the preserving the stem cells, are being done by our team in our laboratories. All lab equipment and technologies used in the process are made and certified by leading worldwide manufacturers. The combination of highly skilled teams and high-tech laboratories gives the maximum control over the procedures and best quality of service for our clients.
“Saint Lazar” is in Bulgaria, which gives us the opportunity to substantially reduce the time period between the gathering of the stem cells and their freezing for preservation, which is of utmost importance for their vitality. The statistics show, that in over 95% of the storage units the stem cells have 100% cellular vitality - guarantee by itself for high results in future usage.
At any given time our clients can request information about their child's stem cells, or to visit “Saint Lazar” to see personally the conditions for cryopreservation. Our door is always open to all future parents, who want to know more about the procedures. Our teams of specialists will be happy to offer all information and to answer all questions.
“Saint Lazar” is equipped with high-tech transport containers that give us the ability to deliver our client's stem cells to any hospital around the world. The last transportation was successfully completed to Duke University Hospital, North Carolina, USA.
The activities in “Saint Lazar” are being controlled by all competent government organizations and institutions. The bank has permit from Ministry of Healthcare № СБ 321/27.12.2010, special credentials from the same ministry № RD 01-407/12.06.2009 and certificate from the National
Bank and Laboratory
The whole technological equipment in “Saint Lazar” is manufactured by THERMO Scientific, USA, which is the most reputable company in this industry worldwide. All units are being preserved in cryocontainers in liquid nitrogen at constant temperature of -196˚С, with 3 levels of alarm systems for maximum control.
“Saint Lazar” has its own autonomous electricity generator. Although not necessary for the cryopreservation itself, all operation, controlling and emergency systems are working with electricity, thus the lack of such “emergency option” would put in doubt the responsibility of the bank and the safety of the cryocontainers.
What are the Stem Cells
Stem cells under microscope
The stem cells are the building blocks of the human body. They have the remarkable capability to reproduce through virtually infinite division and to develop into any type of cell our body needs at a given time. Unfortunately aging effects them as well and their production in our body as well as their “repair capabilities” decline.
The newborn baby comes into this world with a precious gift from nature - young, vital and healthy stem cells, that are contained in the umbilical cord blood. When collected and preserved on time, those stem cells can be used to cure over 80 diseases of the blood, immune system, bones, hearth etc.
The huge possibility for application of the stem cells has given birth to one of the newest and most promising type of medicine - the regenerative. Thanks to that fact, the number of curable diseases continues to grow.
There are some, who would say that when the blood is extracted from the umbilical cord we deprive the baby from those stem cells and the risk of serious illness is higher. Is there any truth to that?
Absolutely none. After birth the doctor manually pushes the optimal quantity of blood to the baby's body. After that the umbilical cord is being cut. The blood, from which the stem cells for cryopreservation are extracted is in the already cut part of the umbilical cord and if not gathered it is left to pour out.
How is the cryopreservation controlled and what are the guarantees for correct and safe preservation?
There are teams monitoring the cryopreservation containers 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Furthermore, there are 3 levels of automatic alarm systems and controls, which are being activated upon the slightest deviation from the preset parameters. “Saint Lazar” has its own electrical generators, which allows the freezing and processing even in cases of emergencies and power failures. On the first and the fifth year after the cryopreservation, there are scheduled tests of the cells vitality. The longest time stem cells have been stored in the bank is over 5 years and those tests show 100% cellular vitality, which is by itself proof for the quality of the cryopreservation.
Why choose “Saint Lazar” over the big European banks for stem cells?
The big European banks have branches in many countries. Unfortunately in Bulgaria they are represented only by sales networks, which gather the stem cells and send them abroad for processing and cryopreservation. “Saint Lazar” is in Bulgaria and all procedures before the freezing, along with the freezing itself, are done in the bank. That shortens substantially the time period between the gathering of the blood and the actual freezing of the stem cells. It has been scientifically proved, that the optimal time frame between gathering and processing should be no longer than 6 hours. After 24 hours the vitality of the stem cells is drastically reduced, which directly effects their potential usefulness in future.
Is there any danger of getting someone else stem cells?
Absolutely none. There is an electronic file of each and every patient. Furthermore, the cells are being placed in containers, which in turn are placed in aluminum cassettes in metal racks. Every part of that process is being labeled separately. The file contains information about when and where the stem cells are stored, as well as information the freezing slope, which is as unique as the fingerprints.
Are there cases in which the stem cells, stored at “Saint Lazar” have been used for treatments?
Yes. Up to this moment there have been 3 occasions in which that has happened. Last container was sent in the beginning of 2011 to USA.
Lately there has been a lot of talk about creating a public stem cells bank in Bulgaria. If that becomes reality, would you advise such bank to be used?
The cryosaving of stem cells from the umbilical cord blood is very important decision. Unfortunately the possibility is only one - at the birth itself. Whether donated to public bank, to save someone's life eventually, or kept in private bank, to preserve for the health of the child and its family, is a personal decision, which each parent must take on his own.
What is the possibility to find a match in a public bank and how long does the procedure takes?
The search itself might take months and unfortunately there is no guarantee that a compatible match will be found. Such match might be found in banks, which have hundreds of thousands of samples. The price of such search is between 25 000 and 30 000 Euro, which is times higher than the price of private banking.
Do the stem cells lose their vitality when frozen for cryopreservation? How long can they stay in that state?
Theoretically the stem cells don't lose any vitality while in cryopreservation. The first ever container to be “defrosted” was in France after almost 20 years in cryochamber and the cells show 100% accordance to their state before they were frozen. In theory with the proper care, preparation, and cryopreservation the stem cells can be stored forever.
Who is the owner of the stem cells? Who can use them and can the bank use them for other purposes?
Until the child reaches majority the owners of the stem cells are the parents. The cells can be used for treating their original donor, however the risk of rejection when treating family members is slim to none. The bank cannot use the stem cells for any purposes unless instructed by their owner in written form.
Is it worth investing in cryopreservation of stem cells from umbilical cord, when there are available from the bone marrow?
The blood from the umbilical cord, the umbilical cord itself and the bone marrow are sources of stem cells. However their extraction from the bone marrow is invasive procedure, which carries high risk of complications.
What is the minimal vitality and quantity of the stem cells for their successful cryopreservation?
Vitality of 80% and above, and over 30ml total quantity is the absolute minimum to be qualified the sample as acceptable.
Why some banks offer to cryopreserve the stem cells in two containers and in two places?
The preservation of the stem cells in such ways has been advertised to have higher security. With parameters (count, vitality, concentration, etc.) appropriate for one container, to store in two would lead to higher losses when “defrosted”.
Why bank Stem Cells
All parents believe that there will never be a time when their child will need its stem cells for treatment. We all hope as well that this moment never comes. The statistics however show that stem cells therapy has given new lives to thousands of patients around the world. The number of diseases, which can successfully be treated with such therapy increases with such high pace, that more and more people are starting to take this as a medical practice and not as scientific experiment.
Some of the families, expecting child, have substantial practical reasons for preserving stem cells - genetic predisposition to some diseases, different ethnicity of both parents, or for other person in the family, who needs treatment. For all others, the choice to use stem cells banking comes down to the simple, but logical explanation: “Better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them!”.
Applications and perspectives
The ability of the stem cells to multiply and to create new, healthy cells for the human organism makes them a powerful medical tool in the treatment of many diseases in children and adults alike. Medical information shows, that to date, with stem cells from the umbilical cord blood are being successfully treated over 80 diseases such as leukemias, tumors, anemia, autoimmune and neurological diseases, and many others.
The latest researches in the potential of the stem cells are concentrated in their application in the regenerative medicine for creating hearth and neurological tissue, for treating Parkinson, Alzheimer, multiple sclerosis and many other, considered until now for untreatable. On stage “clinical testing” is already treatment for cerebral paralysis, diabetes type I and brain injuries.
The results are very promising and show a whole new field to modern medicine.