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Bank of Stem Cells to Give Hope to Sick Children

Families who fear the transfer of genetic diseases to their progeny have been given new hope with plans for the development of a major NHS bank of babies' stem cells//.

Stem cells are the building blocks of life and have the potential to treat diseases such as leukemia. However cord blood banking has still not made its presence felt among a majority of the public as well as clinicians, wherein blood is taken from the baby's umbilical cord at birth.

The Department of Health has put in an extra 4.2 million to the scheme with calls on the Government to provide still more funds.

Professor Peter Braude, chairman of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:' We would like to see public banking strongly supported in the public interest for the hundreds of thousands of children who could benefit in the future.'

The RCOG also issued a warning to parents planning thinking to store their new-born baby's blood, which is a rich source of stem cells stored privately stating that there was 'insufficient evidence' to suggest that it was beneficial, echoing doctors' fears that private companies - charging up to £1,500 - are preying on parents' fears and women are being targeted by 'emotive literature.'

Presently the not-so publicized-NHS Cord Blood Bank is collecting voluntary donations of cord blood for possible future use in transplantation. Families that have a high risk of a genetic disease can store the blood with the NHS in case it is needed in the future.

Collecting 'cord blood' would also bypass the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cell research.

Josephine Quintavalle, director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said, "We support the idea of more cord blood storage. Given that we throw away cord blood there are no ethical objections to its use and we believe stem cells from cord blood are the best way forward.’

‘The more samples we have in the NHS b ank, the more chances there are for finding successful matches for transplantations to help those suffering from disorders.’

A spokesman for pro-life campaign group LIFE said: ‘We are very concerned about research into stem cells from embryos but we do not want to make a comment on cord blood banking.’

Prof Braude has called for a much larger NHS bank to provide a broad coverage and equitable access for those in need of the benefits that stem cell transplantation can achieve now, and those that may be available in the future.

However RCOG also spoke of the difficulties of collecting the 'cord blood.'

New guidance issued by College warned of the 'considerable logistical burden' placed on 'already overstretched' staff, pointing out that collection of the cord blood has to be carried out during a particularly risky time for mother and baby.

Dr Susan Bewley, chairwoman of the College's ethics committee pointed out that birth could be a dangerous time for mother and child, adding: 'We meddle and fiddle with that at our peril.'

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