Private Umbilical Cord Blood Banking is not the way to go. Commentary - 31 January 2005.

A recent request by a private cord blood bank to the Minister of Health, seeking approval to change the restrictions on the use of the blood they store, has led to criticism of the private bank and the information it gives to parents.There are a number of reasons to be concerned about this bank:

  • Despite some recent changes to their website, some of the promotional material on the Cord Bank site offers dubious and possibly misleading information about the benefits of banking your baby’s cord blood.
  • There is a very remote chance that storing a baby’s cord blood will ever be of any benefit to them in the future.
  • The ethics of such ventures are a matter for concern, yet a lab at Auckland Hospital is involved in the testing process for this bank.
  • Such banks have received significant criticism by a European Union committee enquiring into their operation.

But the very existence of this bank highlights the lack of provision of a publicly funded umbilical cord blood bank that is operated for the public benefit. There are very good arguments for the development of a public bank that would make cord blood available to any patient in need of stem cell transplant or other treatment, just as existing blood banks do for whole blood.

  • Any patient in need of such a transplant is many thousand times more likely to benefit from some other (matching) donor’s cord blood stem cells, than from the use of their own stored blood.
  • There is a shortage of available transplant sources, and in particular for Asian, Maori and Pacific nations. New Zealand should be contributing to the development of public banks for worldwide benefit, and also improving opportunities that minority groups in our population will be able to find a suitable match if they need one.
  • There are strong ethical and economic arguments for government to become involved in providing a publicly accessible cord blood bank to all, as part of a responsible public health service.

NZORD supports the call by Dr Michael Sullivan and others in the New Zealand Medical Journal, January 2005, for a review of the case for public provision of umbilical cord blood banking for wide public use. This is clearly another good example of many small but significant steps that can be taken, to deliver a much better level of prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for those affected by rare diseases.

But most importantly, this issue should not be treated in isolation. There is a pressing need for a comprehensive approach to the needs of those affected by rare and genetic diseases, and a rare disease policy initiative that brings together all the possibilities, and some resources to implement them, is very much needed.

John Forman
Executive Director

Katie Archer