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UK's HTA warns of unlawful cord blood collections

11 March 2010

By Dr Karen Devine

Appeared in BioNews 549

The UK's Human Tissue Authority (HTA) issued a press release this week warning of the dangers of collecting umbilical cord blood stem cells by those who are unqualified to do so. Cord blood is rich in stem cells that contain potentially powerful biological properties, which could be useful in the treatment of certain blood disorders and cancers, and may in the long term be used in regenerative medicine.

As of July 2008, parents wishing to save the stem cells at birth can only do so if their delivering hospital has been issued with a licence by the HTA and those who collect the cells have been specially trained in collection methods that ensure the procurement of high quality cells. This is line with the Human Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) Regulations 2007, which formally adopted the European Union Tissue and Cells Directive (EUTCD) into UK law. However, the HTA has issued a warning to collection sites around the country based on the fact that the authority has received an alarming number of reports that cord blood collections are being performed by those without any form of training and that healthcare professionals are being pressurised by expectant parents into collecting the cells, even in hospitals that are unlicensed.

Furthermore, the HTA reports that DIY collections are being made by parents themselves and, in at least one case, collection was made by a birth partner in the car park of the delivering hospital. This is particularly worrying given the fact that unqualified collections can increase the risk of contamination to the unit, which could potentially render it useless for transplant services. Speaking out about the dangers of this type of practice, Dr Shaun Griffin, Director of Communications at the HTA said that 'collection of cord blood is the same as any other medical procedure: it needs to be carried out safely by trained staff, because collection is not without risk to the mother and baby'.

Although the HTA's primary concern - for the moment - is to simply refresh the memory of hospitals, parents and the cord blood industry that there are rules regarding collection, the authority has also warned that it does have the authority to prosecute those involved in unregulated collection. For the time being, however, the message is to remind all concerned that safe procurement of cord blood is a priority. As Louise Silverton, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, was keen to point out: 'The time during the birth is one of the riskiest times in terms of safety. Therefore, it is essential that midwives are able to concentrate on the birth and are not put under pressure to carry out unregulated and unlawful cord blood collections.'

Human Tissue Authority press release | 09 March 2010
BBC News Online | 09 March 2010
The Daily Telegraph | 09 March 2010


12 March 2010 - by Dr Shaun Griffin 
On Tuesday (9 March) the UK's Human Tissue Authority (HTA) took the unprecedented step of writing to more than 150 organisations to express our concerns that umbilical cord blood is being collected unlawfully, and that this activity may compromise safety and quality standards. Our letters were targeted at those we regulate, maternity units, professional bodies and others...

25 January 2010 - by Dr Karen Devine 
In last week's BioNews, Mr David Burrowes, MP, commented on his successful introduction of a private member's bill on umbilical cord blood (UCB) donation in the UK Parliament in 2008, and how his continued efforts to raise awareness of the benefits of saving UCB for public use has been favourably met in a recent adjournment debate in the House of Commons....
19 January 2010 - by David Burrowes MP 
In 2008 I was the first UK MP to raise the issue of umbilical cord blood (UCB) banking as a private members bill in Parliament and several MPs spoke to me of their previous ignorance of UCB. It is an ignorance I shared despite being a parent of six children and living close to one of the National Health Service (NHS) hospitals that collects it....
10 January 2010 - by Dr Karen Devine 
Conservative MP for Enfield, Southgate, David Burrowes, led an adjournment debate in the House of Commons this week on the issue of umbilical cord blood banking and use. Stem cells from the umbilical cord of newborn babies have been successfully used as an alternative to bone marrow in the treatment of many blood disorders such as leukaemia, sickle-cell disease and immuno-deficiencies. Clinical research has also shown that cord blood may be developed to treat diabetes, liver th...
28 September 2009 - by MacKenna Roberts 
Banking a newborn's umbilical cord blood through a private company so that stem cells may be derived and stored for that child's or sibling's future medical uses is not financially worthwhile, according to a study performed at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). It found that the chances of privately stored umbilical cord blood being therapeutic in the next twenty years are so remote that it does not justify the expense. The researchers calculated that it costs ap...
06 April 2009 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Some UK National Health Service (NHS) hospitals are banning the collection of umbilical cord blood at birth unless it goes into a public blood bank rather than being stored for future use by the individual. King's College hospital in London and Watford General hospital in Hertfordshire have...

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