Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank Started by Richard Branson
Virgin Airlines chairman Richard Branson has launched the Virgin Health Bank to store umbilical cord blood stem cells. Even about these kinds of stem cells there is plenty of controversy. This article is from the London Telegraph.
Stem cell bank may hold cures of the future
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
A bank to store stem cells from newborn babies was launched yesterday by Sir Richard Branson.
Flexible cells from umbilical cord blood can already provide life-saving transplant treatments for blood cancers and immune disorders.
The thinking behind the Virgin Health Bank is that developments in tissue regeneration technology in the next decade may also allow the use of an individual’s stored cord blood stem cells to grow replacement cells and tissues if and when they are needed.
Sir Richard’s scheme is a radical venture for his business empire. It will provide a dual private/public service from its own freezers set up at an existing bank run by the company BioVault in Plymouth.
Each stored sample will be divided and placed in two banks, one (20 per cent of the blood) for the child’s personal use, which is unlikely to be used in the short term, and the remaining 80 per cent used in a public bank to make donated cells freely available to anyone who needs them.
Parents will be asked to pay �1,500 to collect their child’s umbilical cord blood stem cells, which is competitive with the cost of the handful of existing private cord banks. In return they will have a store of cord stem cells as an insurance policy that might benefit their child in the future.
What is unique is that other patients worldwide will also have access to banked, tissue-matched stem cells. The only charge will be for transport, since it is illegal to charge for human tissue.
Prof Nicholas Fisk, of Imperial College London, said collecting cord blood was “a real pain”, being an unwelcome distraction in caesareans and other complex births, given that collection methods vary among cord blood companies.
To date, there has been “little scientific validity” for private banking. More than half of maternity units refuse to bank blood. Virgin should provide additional staffing to ensure success, he added.
Prof Fisk also warned that in a child’s early years their own stem cells are unlikely to help them if they have a condition such as leukaemia, unlike healthy donated cells. The chance of using cord blood for your own baby was “almost nil”, he added.
Where Virgin’s plan was unusual was making some of each donation of cord blood available for use by others because, unlike bone marrow, cord stem cells do not have to be a perfect match to take.
“Public cord banking is a very laudable aim and they are doing it in a clever way by mixing private and public usage,” said Prof Fisk. Virgin said it would rely on the 20 per cent of hospitals who have an existing policy of storing cord blood for its supplies.
A spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology said: “It is imperative that the collection should not in any way compromise the attention of the carers to the delivery, and ideally the sample should be collected by a trained third party.”
Belinda Phipps, the chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said: “The evidence does not show benefits for the baby.
“The method recommended and used by many commercial companies to collect stem cells risks interrupting the birth process.”