With a few public cord blood banks in India, private cord banking is a waste of time, effort and money, unless viable samples are donated, suggest experts, calling for setting up of National Cord Blood Bank on the lines of blood banks in India. A cord blood bank is a facility which stores umbilical cord blood for future use in treating diseases of the blood and immune systems. “In a blood bank, you donate your blood and you get a donors card. Whenever you are in need, you can show that card and you get a blood unit for yourself or a relative. Similarly, a cord blood bank can be set up where you take consent from the parents and then give them a card. Whenever they are in need for a relative or sibling is in need, you can just show a card and take a donated cord blood,” said Dr Geeta Jotwani, Deputy Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Coordinator for Stem Cells Study.
Highlighting the system of cord blood banking in the country, she said, “In India, the scenario is that there are private cord blood banks, there is no Government initiative. There were plans to make a National Cord Banking System in India by the Government sometime back but the whole thing ended with reasons unknown to us.” Terming the private cord banking systems to be ‘a marketing gimmick’, Dr Rahul Bhargava, Director, Haematology, and Bone Marrow Transplant, at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon, said, “When people thought that they can cure any disease with the help of stem cells, they were wrong. It can only be used in some hematological disorders and bone marrow transplants. Moreover, if your child is born with a disorder, the same gene cannot be used to cure it because it is already deformed. Unfortunately, there is no decline in the demand as a marketing gimmick is going on.” Similarly, calling it a ‘business model’, Dr Jotwani said, “The money involved is huge. Initially they would charge ₹75,000 to store the cord. The amount has come down now but then they would charge a maintenance fee for 21 years.”
Recalling some complaints, she said, “Some of the parents have complained to the ICMR that when we asked for our cord blood, the cells were not viable.” Moreover, in most of the cases, cord blood stored in private banks is wasted and cannot be used by a needy person because it is stored for personal use by the parents, the doctors added. According to Dr Satya Prakash Yadav, Director Pediatric Hematology Oncology & Bone Marrow Transplant, of Medanta Hospital the units have not reduced any hematological diseases burden so far. “These units have not helped to reduce the huge burden of hematological disorders that come within the scope of treatment using a cord blood stem cell unit. This is because all of these units have been preserved for self-use,” he said. When it was asked, whether national cord banking be feasible in India or not, Dr Jotwani said, “Why won’t it be feasible in India. People don’t get perfect matches most of the times.” As per Dr Bhargava, with the chances of a perfect match being extremely low, small public banks cannot help.
“If you need a transplant, the chance of a perfect match is 1 in 30,000. This is the reason why, small banks won’t help much and private cord blood banking is a waste of time, effort and money,” he said. However, the changes are being introduced by the hospitals in private banking systems in order to form a pool banking system. “Storing cord blood of new-born, which otherwise is routinely discarded, in pool bank after HLA typing, may help treat a large number of children born with blood-related diseases,” said Dr Bhargava. Commenting on pool banking system being introduced by private players, Dr Jotwani said “How community banking is going to be useful, the Government is not sure about it.” The private cord blood banking is only recommended if your first child is suffering from some hematological disorder. So, the cord blood of your second child may be used for the benefit of the first child, she added. – Daily Pioneer