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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'.

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
13 June 2011 - by Nishat Hyder 
A Glaswegian company has recently launched a new stem cell banking service which offers adults the opportunity to bank stem cells using a newly approved method of extraction and isolation...
11 March 2010 - by Dr Karen Devine 
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....
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....
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...
15 September 2008 - by Dr Karen Devine 
The UK's Antony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust this week launched a new initiative - the Antony Nolan Cord Blood Bank and a combined stem cell research centre at Nottingham Trent University. Mothers who deliver babies at the Kings College Hospital, London, are being recruited to donate the stem...
7 July 2008 - by Dr Karen Devine 
This week saw the introduction of licensing agreements for UK premises that wish to undertake the collection of umbilical cord blood (UCB) stem cells on behalf of pregnant women. Cord blood has been collected and used in the treatment of certain blood diseases such as leukaemia, and...
6 May 2008 - by Dr Karen Devine 
In the 21st Century, the collection and use of stem cells from umbilical cord blood (UCB) is anything but a new phenomenon. Since the first successful UCB transplant in 1988, the use of UCB for transplantation purposes has been used in over 6,000 treatments worldwide and has proved to be...
6 May 2008 - by Dr Karen Devine 
The UK's Human Tissue Authority (HTA) has announced that the collection of umbilical cord blood stem cells is to be regulated for the first time in the UK. Cord blood contains a rich source of stem cells that could be used to fight disease and may in...
18 February 2008 - by Dr Karen Devine 
After two months of treatment for a rare form of cancer known as Neuroblastoma, two-year old Caden Ledbetter came home from hospital in Dallas, Texas, this week, cancer-free. Neuroblastoma is a fast-growing cancer, which affects the nervous system. Sporting a surgical mask and clutching a teddy bear...
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