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Sunday, 18 November, 2001, 13:41 GMT
Parents warned over baby blood banking
Cells can be stored soon after birth
Medical experts have warned people against banking their baby's blood as a future insurance against disease.

They say routine commercial collection and storage of blood and stem cells from umbilical cords after babies are born cannot currently be justified on scientific grounds.

Commercial companies are targeting pregnant women with such emotive literature when the scientific evidence is not yet there to back up their claims

Professor Nick Fisk

Doctors say pregnant women in the UK are being targeted by commercial organisations offering a 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' that is 'like freezing a spare immune system' for use if their child falls ill in later life.

This private storage of cord blood typically costs around 600.

Little evidence

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) says there is evidence blood cord stem cell transplantation has been used successfully in some cases of leukaemia and immune diseases.

But it says there is not enough evidence of its potential use to justify routine collection and storage of cord blood from the majority of families.

Professor Nick Fisk, chairman of the RCOG Scientific Advisory Committee, said: "We are concerned that commercial companies are targeting pregnant women with such emotive literature when the scientific evidence is not yet there to back up their claims.

"Stem cells collected from umbilical cords have been successfully used to treat some illnesses such as leukaemia, but it is speculation to suggest that they may be used in future years to cure a wider-range of illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and heart disease.

"At the present time we are unable to recommend routine directed commercial cord blood collection and stem-cell storage."


RCOG is also concerned that parents wanting cord blood collected privately are increasingly approaching obstetricians and midwives.

There are also concerns over the practical implications of collecting samples.

Professor Fisk said: "Not only does this practice distract labour ward staff from the care of the mother and her baby, but there are serious questions over the legal position of clinicians should any problems with the sample be discovered later in life.

"We are recommending that individual NHS Trusts need to develop their own policy on how to respond to prenatal requests for cord blood storage through commercial providers."

The first successful cord blood transplant between relatives was carried out 12 years ago.

Blood taken from umbilical cords has since become an alternative source of haemopoietic stem cells (HSC) to bone marrow, and has been used in over 2,000 transplants (between relatives and non-relatives) world-wide.

Known risk

In families with a known genetic disease that can be treated by HSC transplantation, some transplant centres recommend cord blood collection and storage for newborn children.

The National Blood Service also operates a limited service where women can donate umbilical cord blood altruistically, in a similar way to bone marrow donors.

Pregnant women who wish to donate cord blood to the National Blood Service banks for use in unrelated transplantation can do so at the following hospitals:

  • Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow
  • Barnet General Hospital
  • Newcastle Royal Infirmary
  • Mater Infirmorum Hospital in Belfast

Christopher Arnone, sales and marketing manager for UK Cord Blood Bank, said blood banking companies should not advertise their services in an emotive way.

He told BBC News Online: "Private stem cell banking is insurance and at this moment in time it is limited insurance.

"As research continues the applications of stem cells will continue to show that they have the ability to have many medical applications other than leukemia and immune diseases.

"In the end no one wants to use the insurance that they have but if the time ever arises it is good to know that they are covered."

The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"One company offering the service says it is biological insurance"
See also:

10 Oct 01 | Health
Children's 'lifeblood' hope
25 Oct 99 | Health
Banking on umbilical blood
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