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NHS not supporting cord blood stem cell banking for personal use

6 April 2009
Appeared in BioNews 502

Some UK 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 banned parents from extracting cord blood from their newborn if their intention is to store it for their own purposes, and instead ask that they donate it to the Anthony Nolan trust or the NHS blood bank for use by whoever may be a suitable match. Umbilical cord blood is an excellent source of blood stem cells, which have the potential to treat a range of serious illnesses.

New regulations governing the harvesting of umbilical cord blood came into effect in 2008, when the Human Tissue Authority introduced the requirement for hospital maternity units to have a licence if they intended to take cord blood at birth to store for future use. In addition, specific standards of procedure for the harvesting process, and the care of the mother were brought into effect, as well as a large fee. In future, individuals wanting to store cord blood for their own use, including those with specific medical and/or genetic reasons for doing so, may have to have their children in a private hospital which allows the harvesting of cord blood by a private bank. This would be significantly more expensive than the NHS route.

The Foundation for Genomics and Population Health (PHG Foundation) believe this ban can be seen as furthering the 'inequity of healthcare services available to the majority of citizens and the few with significant wealth', particularly when compared with countries who operate insurance-based medical care such as the US and Australia. The recent merger of two large blood cord banks in Australia highlights the importance that country places on making 'storage of cord blood stem cells an affordable and essential service for all'. In the US, legislation has been introduced which allows cord blood banking services to be included with other tax-deductable medical expenses.

Shamshad Ahmed, the director of Smart Cells, a commercial stem cell bank in the UK storing stem cells for private use believes 'it is an injustice that certain hospitals will [only] participate in the collection of umbilical cord blood if parents agree to give it away'. However, the NHS cord blood bank website states that 'A public donation...has the potential to save the life of any person for whom the unit is a good match, including the person who donated it, if it is still available'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Tensions between private and public cord blood stem cell banking
PHG Foundation |  27 March 2009
Women may not keep own stem cells
The Times |  22 March 2009
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