Sir Richard Branson has announced the latest addition to his music, airline and mobile phone empire: a bank of stem cells obtained from the umbilical cords of newborn children. The cells, which are collected just after the baby is born and frozen for storage, can regenerate the bone marrow, making them essential in the treatment of blood cancers and immune diseases.
Future scientific advances related to stem cells could realize the possibility of using the cells to regenerate damaged organs and tissues. However, the bank has raised doubts among specialists, who fear that midwives and the rest of the hospital staff involved could be distracted by the task of having to collect cord blood immediately after birth.
This bank will be the first in the country to offer the dual service: public and private. The deposited samples will be stored separately in two warehouses, one private and one public. The NHS (national health service) will be free to use the cells stored in the latter to treat compatible patients.
Under the plan, parents will have to pay € 2,274 to store their babies' stem cells for 20 years. One fifth of the sample will be for your private use, while the rest will be available to treat other patients.
During a conference in London, Sir Richard noted: “Although umbilical cord blood storage is common practice in many countries, in the UK there is still confusion between the different types of stem cells. We are talking about ... those that are extracted from the blood of the umbilical cords, which is normally discarded after the birth of the child. The use of these cells as a treatment does not pose any ethical problem ”.
The investment of more than 15 million euros is being financed by Merlin Biosciences. According to Sir Richard, Virgin will receive half of the profits and donate it to charities. Sir Richard expects the Plymouth-based bank to house 300,000 samples.
Source: The Guardian Science