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Air Products’ Liquid Nitrogen and Cryo-Save – storing stem cells, saving lives

Stem cell transplantation is perceived as a major breakthrough in medical history and it has been used in medical procedures for more than 50 years.

More than 1 million blood stem cell transplants have been performed across the world and play an important role in the treatment of bone marrow failures, blood disorders, immune deficiencies, blood cancers and metabolic diseases. Cryo-Save South Africa, a family cord blood and cord tissue stem cell bank, has chosen Air Products as a trusted partner to continuously supply them with liquid nitrogen for storing these precious stem cells.

Stem cell storage has been around for more than 25 years. It is believed that 1 in 217 people, or 0.46%, will have a stem cell transplant (not just need one, but have one) by the age of 70. Hence the cord blood that parents store from their baby might be of help to an immediate family member, years from now. The cord blood is most likely to match first degree relatives such as siblings and parents.

Stem cell freezing – a precise, scientific process

Dr Lana du Plessis, Laboratory Director at Cryo-Save explains the process of stem cell freezing. Upon arrival of the cord blood samples at the laboratory, it is processed using an internationally validated automated closed system protocol, which allows for comprehensive quality control monitoring of the cord blood stem cell sample. The  concentrated umbilical cord blood stem cells are frozen using a cryopreservation medium and a method of controlled rate freezing, and it is subsequently placed in a cryopreservation tank for long-term storage.

A sample of the baby’s cord blood stem cells post processing will verify that the cells are viable and sufficient for storage. Stem cells from the cord tissue are also processed and cryopreserved through the use of an approved processing and cryopreservation protocol.  The stem cells from the cord blood and cord tissue are stored in special cryopreservation bags and containers, respectively, each sample is labelled with a unique code, that can be specifically traced back to each client, and stored in a cryo-preservation tank which contains gaseous nitrogen (approximately minus 180 degrees Celsius).

Trusted liquid nitrogen supplier

L – R: Gary Lombard (Air Products), Cryo-Save’s Alicia Potgieter, Dr Lana du Plessis, Dr Robert Crookes, Elmarie Henning, Petro Willemse and Thuto Raphefo (Air Products).

Air Products has been supplying Cryo-Save with liquid nitrogen since 2011. Air Products was initially chosen as the preferred supplier as they complied with all the requirements stipulated by Cryo-Save and was able to install and supply an innovative solution, thereby ensuring uninterrupted availability of liquid nitrogen. The nitrogen, used in its gas form, does not affect Cryo-Save’s processes as the products are stored in the vapour phase in sealed containers.

According to Gary Lombard, CryoEase Business Manager, Air Products is proud to be associated with a customer who provides a service that is not only perceived as medically advanced, but one that can play a vital role to improve or save a life.

Lombard further says: “It is of utmost importance that Cryo-Save never runs out of nitrogen at any point in time. In order to ensure continuity of supply and meet the volumes required by Cryo-Save, Air Products has installed equipment to support and meet Cryo-Save’s requirements through a mode of supply, called CryoEase.

This ‘total gas management system’, offered by Air Products, enables them to manage supply on a long-term basis without Cryo-Save being involved in the ordering process. With this system, they are able to meet Cryo-Save’s demands without interruptions in production as the product levels are monitored remotely. The beauty of a supplier-customer relationship such as this is that Air Products is able to provide product as the volume consumption changes and adapt its offerings to meet the customer’s specific requirements.”

Maintaining high standards

Dr Lana du Plessis, Cryo-Save’s Laboratory Director, explains that they are associated with Cryo-Save International, but operate independently. The processing, cryopreservation and storage processes have been developed in accordance with Cryo-Save International’s protocols and the International AABB (formerly known as American Association of Blood Banks) Standards.

Cryo-Save is furthermore an ISO 9001 accredited facility and registered with the Healthcare Authorities of South Africa as a Stem Cell banking facility. Air Products is able to complement Cryo-Save’s processes as quality accreditation and an emphasis on safety is a large focus area throughout the entire organisation.

Stem cell banking into the future

Stem cells can replace dead or diseased cells in the body as in the case of a blood stem cell transplant.

As medical science continues research into the stem cells and its flexibility, the list of possible treatments grows. Recent research into the stem cells found in cord tissue has shown potential in regenerative medicine and these cells have the ability to transform into many types of tissues and cells including tissues of specific organs, skin, bone and muscles.

Dr Du Plessis further explains that the stem cell banking industry is growing at a tremendous pace. “Apart from the normal bone marrow stem cells, peripheral blood stem cells and cord blood and tissue stem cell banking, other sources of stem cells are also being harvested from various sources for banking. These sources include: dental pulp, adipose tissue, skin and other tissues in the body. Clinical trials are also currently underway to investigate using stem cell therapies to potentially treat spinal injuries, diabetes, cerebral palsy, autism and many other medical conditions.”

The belief is that there is a huge market potential for stem cell storage in the near future (21st Century Tech Blog, 2019)*: “Because stem cells are being heralded as the shape-shifters within our bodies, a universal panacea to cure almost everything that ails us. Biopharma companies recognise the money opportunity and are starting to bank them. Seen as the newest biopharmaceutical growth industry as opportunities to create new wonder drugs are narrowing, and as time runs out on exclusivity for so many of the drugs used globally, personal medical cures are all the rage. According to Market Reports World, analysts predict annual growth of stem cell banking at 12.76% from 2018 to 2022.”

Du Plessis concludes by saying: “We have formed a strong relationship with Air Products over the years. In our business, we cannot afford shortages or interruptions as it literally becomes a matter of life or death. The team at Air Products understands this and I can only compliment their quality, outstanding service, professionalism and the level of urgency they apply when we require their assistance. With new research and more awareness of stem cell freezing, we definitely anticipate future growth and are confident that we have a trusted supplier to grow even further with us.”

*21st Century Tech Blog. (2019). Stem Cells is a Growing Business in More Ways Than One. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2019].

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