Consumer Watch: Big cost, little value

By Susan Edmunds

Jason Burns and Khristin Hach will probably save their child's stem cord blood. Photo / Doug Sherring
Jason Burns and Khristin Hach will probably save their child's stem cord blood. Photo / Doug Sherring

Parents spending thousands despite dubious benefits of cord blood storage

Kiwi parents are paying thousands of dollars to store their child's cord blood in a private bank - but medical experts say the evidence of cordbanking's benefits is hazy at best.

CordBank charges $2,900 to collect and bank a child's blood, then another $225 a year for storage - adding up to nearly $7,000 by the time the child turns 18. Stem cells from banked cord blood have been claimed to help afflictions such as cancer, cerebral palsy and diabetes.

Since 2002, more than 6,000 sets of Kiwi parents have banked their children's cord blood. So far, eight have called on it to try to combat childhood cancer and brain injuries.

Otago University senior lecturer Jim Faed said very little medical benefit was being obtained for the money spent.

CordBank, New Zealand's only private provider, says there is a one in 200 chance of a person using the cord blood before they are 70.

Founder Jenni Raynish said: "When you talk about value, when you need it, it's priceless."

The cost was because of the high level of compliance required. "It's a pretty expensive service to provide."

Jason Burns and Khristin Hach, who is six months' pregnant, have decided they probably will bank their baby's cord blood because of Hach's family history of a disease.

They were not worried about the cost. "People spend money on stuff all the time," Burns said. "To budget for something like this seems a selfless thing to do."

But Faed said methods for using adult tissue cells would improve and cord blood cells would not be needed.

His former colleague, Michael Sullivan, who now works at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, agreed. He said even now there were other ways of providing stem cells.

"We can get them for nearly all children without having to resort to their own cord blood.

"There's no justification to spend several thousand dollars to put your own cord blood away. The only purpose would be for a childhood cancer involving a solid tumour ... and then we can nearly always get bone marrow stem cells or blood stem cells from those children when they're diagnosed."

He said the use of a person's own cord blood to treat diabetes, brain damage or cerebral palsy was unproven. "I'm very supportive of studies being done ... but if they're marketing heavily in absence of evidence, that's dubious."

The New Zealand Council of Midwives also recommends caution.

"The blood-forming stem cells found in cord blood make new blood cells to replace old ones in the body and therefore will likely replicate any existing abnormalities."

The council said the chance of a child's own stem cells being used for cancer treatment is about one in 30,000.

Raynish said it did not matter what midwives or anyone else thought. "It's about what the parents think. I'm pleased that if they want to, they can. I set it up because they couldn't."

- Herald on Sunday

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