The number of new parents paying to bank their baby's umbilical cord blood for future use in stem cell therapies or transplantation has increased by 59 percent in the space of four years in the UK.
A total of 27,028 cord blood and tissue units were banked privately in 2018, compared with 16,965 units in 2014, according to figures from the Human Tissue Authority obtained through an FOI request by the BBC.
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord following the birth of a baby. This is rich in blood stem cells, called haematopoietic stem cells, which have the ability to develop into any cell type of the blood that the patient's body might require later in life. There are a number of diseases and conditions that could in the future be treated with these stem cells. Freezing these cells can preserve them for decades.
One parent who chose to bank her child's cord tissue, Rosaira Tormey, told the BBC: 'We just saw it as investment in their health. I've got no control over whether I've passed a faulty gene to them but I feel like I've got a little bit of control now if something was to happen.'
In the UK, there are two public cord blood banks providing this service, and seven licensed private clinics. Private clinics charge around £2000 for 20 years' storage, whereas public cord banks are free to donate to, but the samples are made available for whoever needs them, not only the donors or their family.
However, a debate is currently going on about whether there is a real need for private banking of umbilical cord blood. The Royal College of Midwives said previously in 2011 that there was not enough evidence of benefit to recommend paying for private banking unless there was 'a medically indicated reason'.
'Even if a stem cell transplant is required, one cord may not be enough and treatment is likely to be more successful using an unrelated donor. We would urge parents to donate cord blood to the NHS cord blood bank in those hospitals where this option is available,' Dr Alasdair Rankin, director of research, policy and support at the blood cancer charity Bloodwise, told Yahoo News.
Similar trends have been noted beyond the UK. In the USA, the umbilical cord blood banking market was valued around US$3120 million in 2016 and is expected to reach around US$8180 million by the end of 2025.