The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) of which Dr Weissman is also head, was quick to point out that his comments referred to the sale of stem cell therapies rather than the banking of stem cells.
Nevertheless the issue of cord blood banking needs to be clarified.
Cord blood blanking promises to store cells from the cord blood of babies, with a hope that these cells can be used in the treatment of various diseases later on. The idea is that these cells have some potential to differentiate into various mature cells. However it is not usually pointed out that this potential is limited and that these cells cannot form organs or tissues, and cannot replicate adequately to populate an adult body.
It should also be recognized that cord blood cells are banked in two possible ways, as part of a public bank, where the cells can be used by anyone with the appropriate need, or as a private bank where only the donor uses the cells. This latter form of transplant is called an autologous transplant.
While the former has considerable merit, because kids with various diseases can potentially benefit by tapping into this bank, the latter autologous bank has very little to offer.
There are relatively few proven indications for autologous transplants using cord blood, as compared to the heterologous use of cord blood. Furthermore the chance that a child will be able to use his own stored cord blood is very small.
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) produced a policy statement on this issue in 2007. Their position hasn't changed since then. In the document they say: "Because there are no scientific data at the present time to support autologous cord blood banking and given the difficulty of making an accurate estimate of the need for autologous transplantation and the ready availability of allogeneic transplantation, private storage of cord blood as “biological insurance” should be discouraged."
Singapore has a public cord blood bank, called simply the Singapore Cord Blood Bank. They are doing good work and should be supported.
Their claims are that the cord blood can be used to treat an extremely wide range of diseases. Read their claims for yourself : for Stemcord, and for Cordlife.
Read the above for yourself, and take into consideration the AAP's policy statement: "Cord blood donation should be discouraged when cord blood stored in a bank is to be directed for later personal or family use, because most conditions that might be helped by cord blood stem cells already exist in the infant’s cord blood (ie, premalignant changes in stem cells). Physicians should be aware of the unsubstantiated claims of private cord blood banks made to future parents that promise to insure infants or family members against serious illnesses in the future by use of the stem cells contained in cord blood. Although not standard of care, directed cord blood banking should be encouraged when there is knowledge of a full sibling in the family with a medical condition (malignant or genetic) that could potentially benefit from cord blood transplantation."
One wonders why the Ministry of Health and the Singapore Medical Council does not come down firmer on these unsubstantiated claims by private cord banks.