Esha Mehta (29) has stored her son’s future in specially toughened liquid nitrogen-encased steel flask in Chennai. She and her husband Rohan (30) had collectively decided to store their son’s umbilical cord for future use, in case the need arises. She is not the only one to do so. Bollywood celebrities like Raveena Tandon, Farah Khan and Mahima Choudhary have also preserved their umbilical cords for future.
Farah Khan believes that it’s a process all would-be parents, who can afford it, should go for. “Saving the cord blood can someday save your child’s life and help him/her fight many diseases like leukemia, cancer, diabetes and coronary diseases, repair irreparable damage” she says. Mahima Choudhary seconds Farah and adds, “When I was pregnant I was reading up a lot. I was in US for 6 months then and stem cell banking is a huge thing there. My sister was the one who gave me this idea of preserving the umbilical cord for future use. Investing in cord bank is like having a ticket to space. No one knows if it will be ever neededbut it is a good investment if you can afford it.”
Cord blood banking as a new form of insurance has taken off in a big way in Mumbai. With the opening of one more bank providing Umbilical cord tissue banking service inIndia, it clearly indicates the rising number of people opting to secure their children’s future by storing cord blood for future use.
What is cord blood banking?
Parents can store or donate the umbilical cord blood to specialized banks. Stem cells – procured from the umbilical cord of newborns, fetuses and bone marrows – are special cells that can multiply into various kinds of cells. They are preserved to be used for any future medical treatment that a child may require, including in cases of leukemia, lymphoma or other blood disorders. Studies have indicated that it can also be used to treat degenerative disorders like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, burns, heart disease and diabetes.
Should you go for it?
If a person has any recent history of diseases like Leukemia, Sickle-cell anemia, Lymphomas, Immune deficiency diseases, Aplastic anemia and Thalassemia then cord blood banking is a good option. As of now stem cells can treat 75 diseases and few disorders have a genetic linkage. However, a word of caution comes from experts who believe that not everyone might need it in future. Families need to understand that chances of needing cord blood for a child in a family without history of disease/s are remote. Experts believe that in case the child has genetic blood disorders, it is useless to preserve the cells as they may carry the same defect. Dr Kanjaksha Ghosh, Director of The Institute of Immunohaematology has view that though it is a good concept, 90% will never need it. “Every thing is on an experimental stage. Even if you store your cord for future use, there is no guarantee that one cord with suffice well. In that case you have to mix it with other cords. In that case, what is the use of spending so much money to store it?” he asks.
According to experts, there has been a 200% increase in people opting for the storage of umbilical cords over the last 2 years. Cord blood banks are tying up with financial institutions to facilitate interest-free loans as well as personal loans. Approximate cost for banking ranges between Rs 70,000 to Rs 1 lakh. Some banks insist on full payment right in the first year of storage.
While others, charge an initial storage and processing fee and divide the rest of the amount into annual instalments for the next 4-5 years. The storage facility is for 21 years after which the child decides whether to continue with the preservation or not. Cryobanks International India provides EMI schemes which start at Rs 3400 per month. “We haven’t tied up with banks because the volume of patients is still low” says Dr CV Nerekar, CEO of Cryobanks International India.
Need for public banking
Private banking- families are supposed to pay up considerable amount to the bank for collection and storage for the next 21 years, whereas in public banking- there are no charges for collection and storage. It is encouraged as another person from anywhere in the world may find a match in the donated blood.
India has three major stem cell banks — Life Cell, Cryobanks International India and Reliance Life Sciences. Most experts believe that Indian stem cell banks are mostly promoting private banking of cells since monetary returns are almost nil in public banking. However Mr. Mayur Abhaya, President and Executive Director, Life Cell International blames it on the government. “There are no sustainable models available to go for public banking as there is hardly any government participation. The government has not even set up a bone marrow unit. We have been working with the government ofIndia, based on the 2005US legislation. But with the change in Government, this proposal will again take a back seat. Dr Ghosh seconds him and adds that inIndia there are hardly any good blood bank, let alone a Public cord bank, “In India 9 million cc of blood is required whereas only 4.5 million cc is collected. Ideally there should be 10-15 centres all overIndia which should be for public use” he adds.