The demand for products, services and systems for helping parents to protect their children at various stages of their lives is growing, and nowhere was that more evident than at the Baby Show 2014 at the ExCel, London in February. Amongst monitoring equipment, sterilisers and other products surrounding ‘baby wellbeing’, the presence of an altogether different form of protection for your child, in fact your future grownup child, featured at the show.
Parents facing new mind-sets
As this was my first visit to a show specifically for the baby sector, I must confess I was somewhat surprised to stumble across two stands – Cells4Life and Smart Cells – offering umbilical cord stem cell storage to prospective parents, for the curing of some unexpected illnesses later in their child’s life. Despite the slightly uncomfortable display at Cells4Life – bear in mind I had just been looking at soft, fluffy and super saturated playful prints of prams and foot muffs – it grabbed my attention much like the numerous couples that were talking to the reps.
This got me thinking about how couples and individuals tackle these issues from both an emotional and rational perspective in what should be a happy and joyful milestone in their lives. So why are parents-to-be considering umbilical cord stem cell storage?
Holding the key to long-term health
Stems cells are ‘primitive cells that can transform into many other types of cell found within the body, e.g. skin, liver, nerve’, and can be used within treatments for a range of disorders including some immune, neurological, blood and metabolic disorders and some forms of cancer. The main source of stem cells in adults is taken from bone marrow; however, research has shown that the richest source of stem cells comes from the umbilical cord.
Stem cell banks like the ones featured at the show offer parents a service for the harvesting and storage of their newborn’s stem cells in the form of a ‘stem cell collection’ kit, courier pick-up, testing and storage service, albeit with slightly different offerings and price plans.
Umbilical cord collection kit. Image credit: Cells4Life
Following agreement and consent ‘collection kits’ are posted to parents to take to hospital and after the baby is born, blood is collected from the umbilical vein and arteries by a healthcare professional (midwife, phlebotomist, obstetrician). Samples are sealed and handed back to the parents, who arrange a courier collection with the stem cell bank to take the sample to the laboratory for testing and subsequent storage. The cells are stored for an initial 25 years, although scientists believe that umbilical cord blood cells can be stored for much longer periods of time and ‘retain the clinical activity of the cells’.
Treading a fine (emotional) line
While the process in itself sounds relatively straightforward and clearly aims to be as unobtrusive as possible around such a special moment; consideration of life threatening disorders before your child has even been born can be hard for parents to contemplate, demanding a separation between emotional and rational reasoning. And then there is the cost, the service is by no means cheap, add that to the standard ‘start-up cost’ of a new baby and…
Companies functioning within this space tread a fine line between enabling parents to protect for their children’s future in ways they never thought they could and playing on the fears of the unknown. While a price can never be put on the future health and wellbeing of your children it poses some moral dilemmas of financial investment.
Current treatment with stem cells and research into potential applications. Image credit: Cells4Life
As time and science progress the role of stem cells as a treatment for disorders is likely to extend. Research is currently underway to understand their future in the treatment of disorders such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, muscular dystrophy and organ engineering. So what might currently be considered an uncomfortable consideration round such as joyful time may become a norm in the not too distant future? ‘Banking’ for long-term health may become just as common as ‘banking’ for your child’s future education as ‘protecting for the future’ takes on new meanings.