Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The cord blood stem cell banking scam

Every parent who delivers in an up-market hospital in India today is told by their doctor to go ahead and store their umbilical cord blood stem cells of the baby. They made a lot of promises about how valuable these stem cells are; about how in case the baby has a problem in the future these stem cells can be used to replenish any kind of cell in the body; what makes these stem cells so precious; and why they only have a limited window of opportunity, which is at the time of birth. The marketing spiel is that it's a very cost-effective investment because it could make a world of a difference to their child's health in case she ever develops a medical problem in the future.

It's easy to play on a parents' guilt. After all, children are high-investment products, people don't have too many children, and you want to do your best for your baby. Since you're spending so much on your pregnancy and childbirth, then why not go ahead and spend a little bit more on storing these precious cord stem cells ? It's sold as an insurance policy - your child will most probably not need it, but in case she does do, it's great to have that option.

This sounds very good, but the reality is completely different.

Cord stem cell banking has been around for nearly 10 years now. There must be at least 100 cord blood banks all over India, all of which are private players. A quick back of the envelope calculation means that there might at least be 100,000 stored cord blood samples in these private banks, but what I find very disquieting is there are no success stories about how pediatricians have used these cord stem cells to treat babies with a serious medical problem , which they wouldn't have been able to successfully treat without these stored cells.

You've got to worry about the absence of these stories.

The problem of course is that no one thinks about any of these things. Parents don't look at the big picture. You're emotionally vulnerable when you're pregnant, and it's easy for someone to persuade you to do stuff which is really not in your best interests. The fact of the matter is these cord stem cell banks are private enterprises which are amazingly profitable, and they induce the obstetrician to sell you on the concept of cord stem cell banking because they pay the obstetrician to do this.

Now, this is a sophisticated form of paying a referral fee or a commission because the obstetrician is being "paid" to do the work of collecting your baby's cord blood and sending it to the bank                   ( something which takes a few minutes and is usually done by the nurse !). I think we're doing a major disservice to our patients by selling them false hope, especially when cord stem cell banking is so expensive and unproven. This is why the medical societi
es of obstetricians and pediatricians in the US and UK don't recommend it to their patients.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:21 PM

    This write up by Dr Malpani is very true. Preserved cord blood will only help treat blood diseases and has no other regenerative value i.e. will not improve any other organ function. We had published in 2012 that the stem cells with true potential get discarded (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21780911) during processing. Cord blood banks do not even know what stem cells to preserve. Since 2012, further research in our lab has only confirmed this further. I am completely against cord blood banking for future health insurance. Moreover the amount of cells banked will never suffice when the baby grows old.


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