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.'