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Menstrual blood banking and the Big C'elle? A period of reflection

18 November 2007
By Dr Karen Devine
Kent Law School, University of Kent
Appeared in BioNews 434
As a consumerist society, we are fast becoming familiar with the idea that for a price, we can bank our stem cells in case they are needed in the future to potentially fight disease, grow replacement body parts and help develop clinical therapeutic options. First came the commercial cord blood industry, offering 'a biological insurance for the future' and 'a once in a lifetime opportunity' to 'freeze a spare immune system'. Whilst cord blood stem cells have undoubtedly shown great promise in the treatment of certain blood disorders, the chances of ever using your own stored cells remains low and other treatment options, speculative. Regardless, the race was on to find alternative sources of stem cells in order to capitalise on the modern day phenomenon of individuals with disposable income.

In 2006, American-based BioEden Inc. offered parents the chance to preserve cells from the pulp of their baby's milk teeth, which they claimed contained a source of adult stem cells. Earlier this year saw the launch of a service to store embryonic stem cells (ES cells) from excess IVF embryos by Californian storage facility, StemLifeLine. All three enterprises, however, met with strong criticism from medical experts, academics and the popular press alike, claiming that the persuasive advertising is exploitative and such ventures simply prey on the vulnerable. But such critics could not stem the flow of stem cell storage 'supply and demand'.

This week, another US firm jumped on the bandwagon. Cryo-cell International Inc. launched its proprietary cryopreservation service, C'elle, which offers women the unique opportunity to bank stem cells from their menstrual blood. Researchers have discovered that menstrual blood contains markers similar to those found in bone marrow and peripheral blood, but have the advantage of being able to differentiate more quickly and into a greater variety of cells. Preliminary research findings were presented at the annual Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics symposia on 21 October 2007 and proclaimed that menstrual stem cells have the potential to become neural, cardiac, bone, cartilage and fat cells. Moreover, it is claimed by C'elle that these cells may be used for possible future medical regenerative and rejuvenation procedures.

The C'elle website is particularly impressive. It shares remarkable similarities to the advertising techniques deployed by the cosmetic industry, particularly those of leading brands such as L'Oreal. In the same way that beauty clinics offer customised beauty routines using a range of products, C'elle speaks of the storage of cells for 'customised therapies in the future'. With accompanying video footage, music and models, women are urged to bank now 'as these precious resources from menstrual fluid will certainly not last forever'. Nor apparently will their looks. In spite of the fact that menstrual cells have yet to be used outside of pre-clinical trials, and have been criticised by Peter Braude, Professor of London's King's College and Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital as being all 'hypothesis and hype', C'elle claims that stored cells may one day be used in cosmeceutical applications, such as anti-aging therapies. In the age of an image conscious society, it is little wonder that the use of such language has been declared as nothing short of preying on people's insecurities. Indeed, not only is their collection kit described as 'discreet' but also it's 'attractive'. Time is of the essence and these cells, say C'elle, should be saved before its too late - after all, 'it is indisputable that with each day your body ages and you will inevitably be older next month than you are today'.

On reflection, if someone has the spare cash to spend on the storage of body tissue 'just in case' it is needed in the future, is that really any different from other kinds of optional insurance policies? Of course, a conventional form of insurance has a monetary return, whereas the payout in the case of biological cryopreservation is a vial full of stem cells that may or may not be of any use to the recipient, particularly as at present, there is no evidence that menstrual stem cells will be viable in a clinical setting. Hardly a good return on your investment. But if you are affluent enough to take that risk, then there is every reason to be offered the choice, even though it is admitted that 'realistically, it may take several years for these menstrual stem cells to be developed into potential widely-available commercial therapies'. That said, then why, realistically, should women bother? The problem is that such a commercially driven service is founded upon too many vagaries and speculation to constitute a real choice - and to be economical with the truth is to offer no choice at all.

But with the media hysteria that has surrounded menstrual blood banking this week, it must be remembered that such a service option has yet to reach the UK. It may, however, be prudent to note that whilst the Human Tissue Authority has yet to be approached by a UK firm regarding a similar proposal, it was in the US that cord blood banking first emerged - a concept that took just over five years to be offered here. One can only wonder how long it will be before the flow of what C'elle terms 'the monthly miracle' reaches our shores.

18 November 2007 - by Dr Karen Devine 
The storage of stem cells as a 'biological insurance' for the future is once again hitting the headlines of the popular press. This week, American based company, Cryo-Cell, announced the launch of their new stem cell storage initiative - the opportunity for women to bank their menstrual blood...
18 November 2007 - by Dr Karen Devine 
The storage of stem cells as a 'biological insurance' for the future is once again hitting the headlines of the popular press. This week, American based company, Cryo-Cell, announced the launch of their new stem cell storage initiative - the opportunity for women to bank their menstrual blood...
5 February 2007 - by Khadija Ibrahim 
Sir Richard Branson has launched a new company under his Virgin brand which will offer umbilical cord blood banking facilities to parents of newborn babies. Cord blood transfusions are already used for the treatment of blood related disorders but some believe that umbilical cord blood, which is...
20 October 2006 - by Dr Karen Devine 
Once again, umbilical cord blood (UCB) stem cell collection and storage has been in the headlines of the popular press. UCB can be collected at birth and stored for the future use of the donor, its siblings or donated for public use. There are two main types of banking - public...
15 October 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
UK obstetrician Leroy Edozien has called for new mothers to be discouraged from privately banking their babies' cord blood immediately after birth. Writing in the British Medical Journal, Mr Edozien, of St Mary's Hospital Manchester, warns that consenting procedures and collecting blood for private banking puts further...
18 June 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has issued an updated version of its Scientific Opinion Paper on Umbilical Cord Blood Banking. The report finds that there is little evidence to recommend the practice whereby private companies collect and store umbilical cord blood for up to...
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