Gilbert stem cell facility near completion - East Valley Tribune: News

Gilbert stem cell facility near completion

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Posted: Thursday, October 15, 2009 5:34 pm | Updated: 12:47 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The state's first facility to collect stem cell-rich umbilical cord blood from hospitals in Arizona is nearing completion in Gilbert.

The Celebration Stem Cell Centre, under construction adjacent to Mercy Gilbert Medical Center at Val Vista Drive and Loop 202, will serve as a cord blood donation bank and research facility that will offer genetic counseling, officials say.

The center will also store cord blood for paying clients who want to preserve it for later use.

"The facility is absolutely gorgeous," said Rob Schemitsch, a principal and the son-in-law to prominent Valley developer Bill Lund and his wife, Sherry. The couple founded the center.

An opening of the 4,700-square-foot center is still months away.

"Were shooting for the middle or end of January (to open), but we don't have the actual date set yet," Schemitsch said.

Christian Beaudry, director of operations, said the collection center will initially employ about five people, including technicians for quality control and stem cell processing, but that number may grow as the center expands.

"At this point, it's uncertain," he said of the number of future employees.

Beaudry said most of the activity at the center will be related to the storage, processing and private banking of stem cells. But donated cord blood will also be used to advance medicine through research, funded through a number of means such as grants and private sponsorships from foundations and universities, he said.

The center will work with Dr. Nabil Dib, who - among other roles - is the director of Clinical Cardiovascular Research at Catholic Healthcare West. Dib, Celebration Stem Cell Centre's chief investigator and director of research, is overseeing more than 20 clinical trials in cell and gene therapy, officials said.

"Most of his research is on cardiac repair, so a lot of the donations of stem cells will be used for that," Beaudry said.

Stem cells can be used to treat a host of other medical conditions, including numerous kinds of leukemia and other cancers, bone marrow disorders and diseases such as osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Experts are also making headway usingstem cells for brain and spinal chord injuries, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, Type 1 diabetes and heart disease.

Unlike embryonic stem cells harvested from fetuses, the Gilbert processing and storage center will use stem cells taken from the blood in the cord that delivers oxygenated blood and nutrients to a fetus during gestation, officials say. Center officials say the collection process is noncontroversial because extraction takes place after the birthing process and neither the baby nor mother is harmed.

Dan Henderson, Gilbert business services director, said the center will benefit the town in a number of ways.

"Financial impact can be quantified in terms of the capital investment going into the center - it could be quantified by the number of jobs, it can be quantified by the types of research, or it could be quantified by indirect elements," he said.

Those indirect elements include support for other related industries.

Henderson said the center is an example of the kinds of businesses the town works to attract.

"It's consistent with the science, technology, engineering and math attraction strategy that Gilbert is focusing on, and it will be a critical component to all of that," he said. "But our eyes are focused on continuing to attract this and other types of science-related research and development to the town."

Henderson said in an e-mail that there is no public storage donation bank for umbilical cord blood cells in Arizona; however, 20 other states offer donation centers.

The Lunds are developing the center as part of the larger 18-acre Centre for Integrated Healing campus, which will specialize in naturopathic, alternative and traditional medicine, officials say.

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