9 March 2010
The UK Human Tissue Authority (HTA) has issued an official warning that unlawful collections of umbilical cord blood have been taking place in the UK, and that such instances ‘may compromise safety and quality standards’ (see press release).
Cord blood banking is growing in popularity in the UK; last year some 15,000 collections were made of which around one quarter were for public, charitable or research recipients (see BBC news) such as to the NHS Cord Blood Bank, whilst the remainder were via commercial providers who charge £1000-2000 for collection and storage of the samples. Whilst stem cells from cord blood can currently be used for treatment for a few serious diseases such as leukaemia, private companies typically market their services to parents on the basis that stem cells will be the key to successful treatment of a whole range of diseases in the near future.
Banking has been regulated in the UK by the HTA since 2008 (see previous news); collections may only be made under an HTA licence, requiring suitably trained staff. This is to ensure not only the quality, safety and traceability of the sample obtained, but also to ensure that collection procedures do not divert key medical attention from either the mother or baby, which has caused concern in the past (see previous news).
Now the HTA is contacting more than 150 organisations to warn them about the dangers of unlawful cord blood collection, whether by parents themselves or by unlicensed medical staff. They are also urging parents who wish to chose cord blood banking (for example, via a commercial provider) to make sure that arrangements for proper collection are made well in advance, to avoid midwives or other unlicensed medical professionals being put under pressure by parents to make illegal collections.