On Friday, January 22nd, I went to the grand opening of the Cord Blood America, Inc., corporate office located just south of McCarran Airport. CBAI, founded seven years ago in Southern California, has just moved to Las Vegas. If you’re like most people (myself included) you probably haven’t heard of Cord Blood America, or even what they do.
To find out, I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. There were short speeches by CBAI board member Joseph R. Vicente; Somer Hollingsworth, who is President and CEO of the Nevada Development Authority, working to bring economic diversity to Las Vegas; Nevada Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki; CBAI Lab Director Dr. Geoffrey O’Neill; and Matthew Schissler, CEO and co-founder of CBAI, who talked about the growth of the company over the past seven years. CBAI recently acquired CorCell, “the first licensed private cord blood bank in the United States.”
Started with funding from credit cards, CBAI now claims to have one of the largest stem cell cryogenic storage facilities in the nation. Most people will remember stem cells for the great promise they hold for medicine, and the controversy over taking them from embryos. However, the stem cells at CBAI (and other cord blood banks) are taken from umbilical cords at birth.
The publicly-traded company occupies a modern-looking 17,000 square-foot building just a short block south of East Sunset Road. After touring the lab and storage facility, I talked with the lab director, Dr. O’Neill. Originally from Scotland, he still has traces of a highland accent even after more than thirty years of living in America. I learned that he once worked with Robert A. Good who was the first physician to perform a successful human bone marrow transplant. I asked him what, if anything, he found surprising about Las Vegas. He said it was the friendliness of the people here that impressed him.
Dr. O’Neill told me that out of the small amount of blood taken from the umbilical cord at birth, there are in total perhaps one billion cells, and about three percent of them are stem cells. Stem cell transplantation is currently used as a treatment for some cancers, blood disorders, and congenital conditions. It is not a routine procedure, but it is an improvement over bone marrow transplants, which were formerly used since bone marrow is a source of stem cells. Current prices for extraction, testing, and storage of umbilical cord blood is roughly $1000 to 2000 for the initial fee and about $100 per year after that.
Stem cells from cord blood can be beneficial for the child, can also be useful for the parents or relatives, and the possibilities don’t stop there. Stem cells may also be used for treating other people when the tissue type matches the recipient.
I saw the indoor liquid nitrogen storage tanks that currently hold about 20,000 samples. Was it a concern that the main liquid nitrogen tank must be kept outside in the desert sun? It’s definitely the kind of thing the lab director has to worry about. But the tank is insulated, and when the nitrogen level gets low the tank automatically sends a signal to the suppliers, in Los Angeles or Phoenix.
There are no immediate plans for conducting research at the facility here, according to Dr. O’Neill. However, there may be enough space in the building for a research lab if the company wants to do that. I left with the impression that Cord Blood America is a business that brings good things to the Las Vegas valley.