Stem cells: Cell-u-like

For families who want to try to safeguard their baby's future, the latest thing is a £1,500 set of stem cells. Danielle Gusmaroli reports

The technique involves extracting stem cells from the umbilical cord, which could develop specialised tissue to treat illnesses including strokes, cancers, Alzheimer's and leukaemia, as well as to regrow body parts. The cells are then frozen in vials and banked for up to 25 years.

"It might just save a child's life," said Shamshad Ahmed, manager of London's cord blood bank, Smart Cells.

A growing number of such blood banks have sprung up across Britain, in line with the trend's soaring popularity in the United States. Companies offering them include UK Cord Blood Bank, Future Health, Cells4Life UK and Cells.

Becki MacCullum and her husband, Alistair, last year banked the umbilical blood of their new-born as a talisman against future ill-health. On discovering that statistics cite a one-in-four chance of a sibling match, they paid Smart Cells £1,200 for a kit and 25-year storage plan.

Mrs MacCullum, 35, a City stockbroker, gave birth to their first-born, Freya, on 22 February. In preparation for the hospital birth, she packed her overnight bag with nappies, a nightie, the obligatory babygro - and a cord blood collecting kit.

At precisely 17.17, when her daughter was delivered, Mr MacCullum, 34, a company director, pricked the cord with a needle attached to a bag and drained the blood in less than a minute.

Mrs MacCullum, from Chislehurst, Kent, said: "It's the best present we could buy her. In a few years, she'll grow out of her pram and clothes, but she'll have this health insurance for at least 25 years - it's her perfect genetic match. There are no hereditary illnesses in the family, but you never know what might happen to Freya in the future.

"Her stem cells could also be used to save her parents' or grandparents' lives. There is so little research on stem cells that no one can say exactly how long they can survive - but for £1,200, it's money I am prepared to risk to protect our child's health."

Smart Cells says that in the five years it has been set up, the numbers of expectant mothers requesting the procedure has spiralled. Staff say that they post out an average of 200 kits a month - compared with 140 a month last year, and 100 the year before that.

Mr Ahmed said that cord blood stem cells from an Arab baby boy were implanted last month into his four-year-old sister, who suffers from a life-threatening blood disorder, thalassaemia. She is currently in incubation in hospital in Abu Dhabi, where doctors will learn next month whether the operation was successful.

Stem cells are separated from the blood of the umbilical cord, cryogenically frozen and stored at around minus 126C. They are abundant in the placenta and the umbilical cord, and are particularly useful for treating blood disorders such as leukaemia when a bone marrow match cannot be found.

During embryonic growth they can develop into heart muscle cells, red blood cells and skin cells.

The ability to regenerate human embryonic stem cells without the destruction of embryos would eliminate the ethical concerns of many.

UK Cord Blood Bank - the first private cord blood bank in Britain, which was set up seven years ago - says that it has 1,000 clients on its books. It estimates that 24,000 families across the US have used the service. The company charges £1,500 for the procedure and £875 to freeze and store the cells.

Victoria Strachan, general manager at UK Cord Blood Bank, said: " Harvesting stem cells from the umbilical cord at birth is definitely on the increase in Britain - we are always three years behind America and are now beginning to catch up. We are getting repeat requests from parents expecting their second and third child."

Researchers from Imperial College London have cast doubt on the scheme, arguing that the chances of a child needing such cells are tiny, and collecting them during the birth could distract hospital staff.

Professor Anne Bishop, of Imperial's tissue engineering and regenerative medicine centre, believes that parents should not expect any guarantees.

"It is catching on here, but because of aggressive advertising on the internet," she said. "Vulnerable expectant mothers are being made to worry that if they don't join the bandwagon their baby will die of leukaemia.

"No hospital or company in Britain will provide medical staff to carry out the procedure and midwives are not qualified. Professors here believe it is better to buy the most expensive car seat that one can afford to save a baby's life."

Recent studies by the Leukaemia Research Fund suggests pre-cancerous cells can be found at birth in children who go on to develop leukaemia. Returning umbilical blood to that child may lead to renewed cancer a few years later, they say.

But Smart Cells's Mr Ahmed remains optimistic. "In the next two to five years, there will be a lot more uses for these stem cells. If the cord is not saved at birth, then that is an opportunity lost."

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
news
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
life
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Support Manager - Staffordshire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Manager - Near...

    Nursery assistants required for day to day roles in Cambridge

    £10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

    Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

    £20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40 - £50K first year: SThree: SThree Group an...

    Corporate Communications Manager - London - £60,000

    £55000 - £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Corporate Marketing Communications M...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone