The number of people paying thousands of pounds to freeze parts of their baby’s umbilical cord in case they get ill has risen sharply, figures show. Cord blood and tissue are rich in stem cells and can be stored with private companies to use to treat the child for a range of life-threatening diseases.
Some 27,028 blood and tissue units were banked privately in 2018 compared with 16,965 units in 2014.
The Royal College of Midwives has previously not backed private banking.
According to regulator the Human Tissue Authority, there are seven private establishments in the UK licensed to process either cord blood or tissue.
Mother-of-three Rosaira Tormey, from Sheffield, who has a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, which increases her chances of getting breast cancer, said because of this she paid £2,700 to bank her son’s umbilical cord blood and tissue.
Although stem cell treatment cannot currently treat her condition, she said she hoped keeping the cord could one day help her children if they were to get ill.
Ms Tormey, who also pays £100 a year for storage fees, said: “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.
“People save for their kids’ weddings and things like that, so why not put something in place if they ever need that protection?”
Mothers can also choose to donate cord blood to the public stem-cell bank, the NHS Cord Blood Bank, or one run by a charity, such as the Anthony Nolan Trust.
These donations are made available for public use and are not kept specifically for individuals.
Private banks differ in that they store units solely for use by the donor or their family in the hope that if one of them becomes ill with a stem cell-treatable disease, such as blood cancer or immunodeficiencies, there might be a perfect match unit available.
Figures from the regulator, showed the number of umbilical cord tissue units processed privately almost doubled between 2014 and 2018, rising from 6,289 to 11,950.
There was also an increase in the number of cord blood units processed, going from 10,676 in 2014 to 15,078 in 2018.
While numbers for private storage have risen, donations of cord blood to the public banks dropped from 4,634 in 2014 to 2,573 in 2018.
However, some public banks, including the NHS one, have a lower set collection target and therefore would not expect as many donations.
In the past, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said they supported public but not private banking.
They said there was not enough evidence to recommend routine private cord collection and banking unless there was a medical reason.
But both bodies said they were currently looking at their position on the issue.
Guy Parkes, head of stem cell donation and transplantation for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “Public cord blood banking is an altruistic, lifesaving act. Private cord blood donation is completely different to public donation.
“We aim to collect a certain amount of cord blood donations each year because that provides the best way of finding a match for the majority of patients.
“Public support for cord blood donation is very high and we continue to meet our collection targets.”
However, Mark Hall, who set up Stem Protect after missing out on banking his son’s cells, said private companies were not preying on parents’ insecurities.
“Ideally we’d like to see it given away for free and provided for on the NHS,” he said.
Mr Hall said he had had clients who had utilised their frozen stem cells.
“It’s saddening that they’ve had to use it in the first place but it’s fantastic it has been used and made a major difference to people’s lives.”
Cord Blood Banking
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta following birth. This blood is usually discarded. However, cord blood banking utilizes facilities to store and preserve a baby’s cord blood. If you are considering storing your baby’s cord blood, make sure to use a cord blood bank accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), like Viacord.
Why would I store my baby’s blood in a cord blood bank?
The cord blood of your baby is an abundant source of stem cells that are genetically related to your baby and your family. Stem cells are dominant cells in the way they contribute to the development of all tissues, organs, and systems in the body.
Stem cells are able to transform into other types of cells in the body to create new growth and development. They are also the building blocks of the immune system. The transformation of these cells provides doctors with a way to treat leukemia and some inherited health disorders.
The stem cells from your baby’s cord blood may also be effective in treating certain diseases or conditions of a parent or sibling. Cord blood stem cells have similar ability to treat the disease as bone marrow but with significantly less rejection.
Banking a baby’s blood and stem cells in a cord blood bank is a type of insurance. Ideally, you would not need to access your baby’s stem cells in order to address a medical concern. However, using a cord blood bank can provide peace of mind in knowing that you have a valuable resource if you need it.
How is cord blood collected?
The cord blood collection process is simple, safe, and painless. The process usually takes no longer than five minutes. Cord blood collection does not interfere with delivery and is possible with both vaginal and cesarean deliveries.
Your health care provider will use either the syringe method or bag method for collecting the blood:
Syringe method: a syringe is used to draw blood from the umbilical cord shortly after the umbilical cord has been cut. The process is similar to drawing blood for a regular blood test.
Bag method: the umbilical cord is elevated to drain the blood into a bag.
The syringe or bag should be pre-labeled with a unique number that identifies your baby. Cord blood may only be collected during the first 15 minutes following the birth and should be processed by the laboratory within 48 hours of collection.
What happens to the cord blood once it has been collected?
The baby’s cord blood will be processed and stored in a laboratory facility, often referred to as a blood bank. The cord blood should be processed and stored in a facility that is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) for the purpose of handling stem cells.
What are the health risks to the mother or to the baby?
There are no health risks related to cord blood collection. Cord blood is retrieved from the umbilical cord after it has been cut, thus preventing any pain, discomfort, or harm. This process is completely safe.
How much does cord blood banking cost?
There are usually two fees involved in cord blood banking. The first is the initial fee that covers enrollment, collection, and storage for at least the first year. The second is an annual storage fee. Some facilities vary the initial fee based upon the length of a predetermined period of storage.
Depending on the predetermined period of storage, the initial fee can range from $900 to $2100. Annual storage fees after the initial storage fee are approximately $100. It is common for storage facilities to offer prepaid plans at a discount and payment plans to help make the initial storage a more attractive option for you and your family.
What if I do not want to store the cord blood?
Your baby’s cord blood could be a valuable resource for another family. From foundations to non-profit blood banks and medical facilities, there are numerous locations that will collect, process, and use the stem cells from your baby’s cord blood to treat other people.
Just like other blood donations, there is no cost to the donor of cord blood. If you do not choose to store your baby’s blood, please consider donating it. Your donation could make a difference in someone else’s life.