A new cord bank has launched in New Zealand offering parents the hope of safeguarding their child against nearly 100 diseases including cancer, cerebral palsy and diabetes.
But it comes at a cost and medical experts say the evidence of cord banking's benefits is hazy at best.
Cell Care, a privately-owned international company that started operating in New Zealand three weeks ago. Parents can use to the service to store their newborn's umbilical cord blood and tissue stem cells which they can collect it if their child becomes sick.
Parents pay $250 for the collection and then an annual fee of $370 for 20 years of storage. Alternatively, they can pay the upfront payment and then 20 years worth for $5,765.
Cord banking has been available in New Zealand - again privately - since 2002, but only for blood which is a rich source of stem cells and claims to help treat disorders including leukaemia, lymphoma and anaemia.
Now, parents are being offered storage not only for their child's cord blood but also their tissue, through Cell Care.
The tissue contains other cells which the blood does not, like mesenchymal stromal cells which have anti-inflammatory properties. This means that they could be used to treat more conditions than cord blood alone can treat.
Where's the evidence?
More than 150,000 sets of parents have banked their children's cord blood and tissue worldwide through Cell Care.
So far, 80 have called on it to try to combat childhood illnesses such as cancer and brain injuries.
Kellie Rogers, Cell Care's New Zealand manager who is also a practising midwife, said the clinical trials being conducted in Australia were ground-breaking and the science spoke for itself.
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One claimed success story is Ruben Proctor, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a young age, leaving him with limited movement throughout most of his body as well as a short life expectancy.
Ruben's parents chose to collect his newborn brother Harlo's cord blood through Cell Care's sibling collection programme. Within a month of the transfusion, Ruben was able to conquer simple tasks such as kicking a ball and walking up and down the stairs.
Transfusion medicine specialist Dr Richard Charlewood said there was no question cord bloods could help treat conditions in children.
"The one difficulty with cord blood collections is that the volume is quite small and, although the concentration of stem cells is high, the small volume x high concentration still gives you a total number of cells that is limited.
"This means that as children get older, the cord blood is less useful, and by adulthood, not really useful at all."
As for cord tissue, he said the evidence was still under question and appeared to be the subject of research at the moment.
The New Zealand College of Midwives (NZCOM) also recommends caution.
In a report published by NZCOM last year, it said the evidence of probability of any benefit for routine private cord blood collection needed to be explained to parents in an unbiased manner.
It outlined a number of issues parents should be aware of including:
• Only a few diseases can be treated with stem cells and there are limitations.
• If a baby is born with a genetic disease the stem cells from that baby cannot be used because they will have the same genes that caused the disorder.
• Parents need to be aware the child's own stem cells being used for the treatment of cancer is rare. This uptake is estimated at about 1 in 30,000.
• Parents also need to be aware the use of their child's own cells to treat existing conditions such as diabetes and cerebral palsy is as yet unproven.
The college says parents need to consider what will happen to the cord blood if the private bank goes out of business and the ongoing cost.
Private versus public
Charlewood said the concern about private cord banks was around the likelihood of the child or their sibling actually needing the cord blood or tissue.
"The annual incidence of childhood leukaemia is around 50 per million (according to the World Health Organisation). That means that the parents are paying for something that is really unlikely to be needed."
The Ministry of Health said it had no current plans to publicly fund these services and referred the Herald to the NZCOM 2019 report.
Luisa, 38, said opting to pay thousands of dollars to help protect her children against potential life-threatening diseases was a no-brainer.
The Lower Hutt mum discovered cord banking half way through her second pregnancy after talking to a friend overseas.
"I was so disappointed I'd missed out on it the first time round but I'm grateful I haven't missed the opportunity with my second," Luisa (who didn't want to give her last name for privacy reasons) said.
She said she suffered a traumatic first birth, which made her realise anything could happen, and like any parent she wanted to do all she could to protect her children.
"In a sense this sibling has a little bit of magic potion potentially to be useful for him and his sibling. Every mother wants a shelf full of magical medicines for the future of her child.
Both her children appeared to be healthy and her family had no concerning medical history.
"Some parents may think I'm being over-cautious, and there is that risk that it's never useful and that you've spend thousands of dollars preparing for a storm that never happened, but in life you are on that ocean and I like things to be storm-proof."
She said age was another factor that helped sway her decision to foot the bill.
"I came into having children late in the game, I'm 37 and the risks are much higher."
Now, 41 weeks' pregnant - nearly a week past her due date - she says it's a decision she won't regret.
"If you have the money, why wouldn't you?"