East Hollywood - Dozens of children have lost their stem cells after a freezer at Children's Hospital Los Angeles malfunctioned and destroyed their samples, according to the hospital.

A total of 56 patients, including those treated for cancer, were affected when a temperature sensor in a freezer failed according to a statement. The institution admitted safeguards in place "were insufficient." 

The letters alerting families were mistakenly sent to the children rather than their parents. Children's Hospital Los Angeles apologized for "any distress or confusion that this has caused our patients and their families." It said it is reviewing its notification process to "ensure this does not happen again."

But according to the hospital, "No child's health is in jeopardy due to this incident."

The blood stem cells were collected from patients and were being stored in a freezer long-term. The hospital said the cells are collected early on in a child's oncology treatment in case they can be used in the future.

"When excess cells are not needed, they remain in storage in the unlikely event that they could become helpful in the future," according to the hospital.

The freezer which malfunctioned has been replaced, and the hospital has upgraded its sensor monitoring and alert system.

The hospital says families who have not been contacted have not been affected by the mishap. It has set up up a phone line for affected families: 1- 877-622-2130.

Stem cells are unspecialized and can be used to create other types of tissue and organ cells. As chemotherapy can destroy stem cells, harvested cells can be transplanted into a child so that child's body can produce mature blood cells once again.

Dr. James Stein, chief medical officer of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, told ABC7 that patients can have their stem cells collected again if necessary.

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