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Saturday, 8 September, 2001, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Banking on a healthy future
The Waterhouse family
The Waterhouse family could all benefit from the move
New parents worry constantly about the health of their child.

But how would you react if you were offered an insurance plan to protect your family against serious medical conditions?

One mother tells BBC News Online why she chose to freeze her child's stem cells as a talisman against future ill-health.

A couple of months ago the Waterhouse family from North Yorkshire took out an unusual form of health insurance.

They became one of just hundreds of UK families to bank the stem cells of their new-born baby to protect him and the rest of the family against future illness.

Stem cells are basic cells that during embryonic development can develop into heart muscle cells, red blood cells and skin cells.


It is an insurance thing, a protection for my child's future health

Janet Waterhouse

These stem cells are particularly abundant in the placenta and the umbilical cord and they have been found to be particularly useful for treating blood disorders like leukaemia when a bone marrow match cannot be found.

But recent research by the Leukaemia Research Fund suggests that pre-cancerous cells can be found from birth onwards in children who go on to develop leukaemia.

If this is the case, returning umbilical blood to the same child may lead to renewed cancer a few years later - and by that time, the child may be at an age where chemotherapy is not so effective.

Of course, if a match can be found with another baby's umbilical cord blood, no such difficulties arise.

But as well as the current uses, stem cell freezing offers a tantalising hope for the future.

The firm Cryo-Care charges parents 600 to store the cells for 20 years, a time period during which they predict scientific research will have advanced to such a state that the cells will be used to help beat Alzheimer's Disease, muscular disorders, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

It is this future hope that Janet and David Waterhouse are buying into.

Health insurance

Mrs Waterhouse, a mother of three, only heard about the scheme just before the birth of her third child Fergus and decided it was an expense worth taking.

"We don't have any history of any terrible illness, but a friend suggested it and it seemed a good idea.

"It is an insurance thing, a protection for my child's future health and it seemed the logical thing to do."

Mrs Waterhouse said the doctors had told her little Fergus' stem cells would probably be compatible for his older brothers Joseph and William, as well as her and husband. So it is an insurance policy for the whole family.

She said the idea of storing stem cells was more popular in the US and she hoped that soon it would become a common protection for the next generation of children.

'Lost opportunity'

"It sounds like a good thing to do. I could not really see a downside to it," she said.

"We just don't know what is round the corner and they are doing all this sort of research now into the use of stem cells.

"They are making so many advances and stem cells that are frozen now can take advantage of all the next 20 years."

The general manager of Cyro-Care, Shamshad Ahmed, said not storing a baby's stem cells was a 'lost opportunity'.

"In the next two to five years there will be a lot more uses for these stem cells. If the cord is not saved at birth then that is an opportunity lost.

"New mothers should take it up because these stem cells are for their child's sole use and there is also a one in four sibling match, so it is advantageous for them."

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