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S.A. blood center enters a new realm
August 11, 2011

By Patrick Danner, San Antonio Express-News

South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is jumping into the field of regenerative medicine.

Through a new subsidiary called GenCure, the nonprofit group is focusing on providing tissue and cells for use in the treatment of patients and for clinical research.

GenCure expands the Blood & Tissue Center's life-saving mission to include assisting in the replacement of missing or injured muscle tissue and aiding in the treatment of various diseases.

"We are uniquely different. Other blood centers do not have this diversification," said Mary Beth Fisk, the Blood & Tissue Center's interim president and chief operating officer.

GenCure actually was formed last year to capitalize on the regenerative-medicine aspects of the center's Texas Cord Blood Bank, its Marrow Donor Program of South and Central Texas, and its Tissue Services unit, which collects donated human tissue. GenCure, also a nonprofit, employs about 75 people.

The Texas Cord Blood Bank collects blood from newborns' umbilical cords. The blood contains stem cells that can be used in the treatment of patients with leukemia or lymphoma.

"But we know that the potential cord blood has is much more expansive than just that," Fisk said. "That's one tiny segment of what its future is going to be in clinical medicine."

As an example, she said, GenCure is working with a scientist who's using cord blood in clinical trials to repair brain tissue in stroke victims and Alzheimer's patients.

GenCure officially was unveiled at a Wednesday event at the Blood & Tissue Center. The event included a presentation by Dr. Stephen Badylak, deputy director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and a GenCure adviser.

Badylak used pig tissue to encourage the regeneration of muscle, tendons and blood vessels in the right leg of a Marine corporal who was severely injured in Iraq. The marine had been close to deciding to have the leg amputated.

GenCure is "filling a niche for a very high-growth industry and at the same time fulfilling another mission - treating patients," Badylak said in an interview. "The field has grown so fast that the need for source material has exceeded the supply."

GenCure currently only processes human tissue, but Fisk said it is exploring the possibility of processing pig tissue for transplantation in humans.

BioMed SA, which promotes San Antonio's heath care and bioscience industries, earlier this year created a regenerative medicine committee to encourage collaboration among local officials working in the field. Fisk is a committee member.

"Regenerative medicine is a very dynamic, emerging field of medicine," said Ann Stevens, BioMed SA's president. "The Blood & Tissue Center is positioned to be an
important player in that arena."

Fisk said it's too early to estimate financial impacts, but she envisions GenCure having a global reach that will lead to more jobs in San Antonio.

The Blood & Tissue Center generated $140.1 million in revenue last year, according to its annual report.


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