By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2015, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Adult stem cells are the lifeblood of groundbreaking scientific developments in which researchers can take a stem cell and use it to grow skin or a tendon or an ear.
It’s called regenerative medicine. Amazing stuff.
For scientists involved in advances in regenerative medicine, their discipline begins with access to adult stem cells.
The use of adult stem cells has largely reduced the criticism of stem cell research because it replaces the controversial study of fetal stem cells.
But where do scientists obtain adult stem cells?
The answer for scientists in Oklahoma and beyond may be found at the Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI) and a new initiative it’s launching called BioShare.
Through BioShare, OBI will supply researchers with stem cells and other blood products, said Charles Mooney, the blood bank’s vice president of New Ventures & Quality Management.
“The community blood bank is the entity with the most expertise to facilitate the collection of cells needed to develop these new cell therapies,” Mooney told me during a recent visit in his office at OBI’s headquarters, at 901 N Lincoln on the Oklahoma Health Center campus.
OBI collects approximately 250,000 blood donations annually, which includes whole blood donations as well as plasma, platelets and other blood products.
Since blood products have a limited shelf life, sometimes a hospital doesn’t use its supply before expiration, so the blood supply is refreshed. BioShare creates new uses for unused blood products.
“We’ve got stem cells, red blood cells, white blood cells, we’ve got platelets, we’ve got plasma, we’ve got serum, and we can collect other things that people need us to collect,” Mooney said.
BioShare is one of three initiatives OBI is launching.
BioLinked is a second initiative, under which the institute will create a database of people who agree to participate in future research studies.
The third initiative is BioCareNextion, through which OBI can connect blood donors to health care providers when it discovers a health problem during the screening or collection process.
State’s biotech leader
OBI is already big. It provides blood products to 158 hospitals across Oklahoma and into both Texas and Arkansas.
It employs 765 health care professionals who collect blood, process it under very strict FDA guidelines and service hospitals from Woodward in the west to Pine Bluff, Ark., in the east and south to Vernon, Texas.
“OBI is the largest bio company in Oklahoma,” Mooney said. “Often, people don’t think of OBI when they think of biotech. We are about as biotech as you can be.”
So, why expand beyond the business of collecting blood and supplying it to hospitals?
“It costs a whole lot of money to get that blood from a donor’s arm into a patient,” Mooney said. “It’s not just draw it and hand it to the hospital. It is regulated by the FDA like a prescription drug. It’s a very expensive undertaking and takes a whole lot of business and science talent to pull it off.”
Still, OBI’s mission remains unchanged.
“All of this OBI wants to do so that we can fulfill our not-for-profit mission, which is that we provide the community with the blood and other cells that the community is going to need both now and in the future,” Mooney said.
And that’s the real bottom line.