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Swedish parents warned about umbilical blood collection

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16:24 CEST+02:00
Parents naturally want the very best for their unborn child and are often prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure it has the best start in life. But Cryo-Save Nordic, a Norwegian company offering to freeze and store umbilical blood as an 'insurance' against future illness, has been accused by Swedish healthcare professionals of taking advantage of parents' concerns.

Cryo-Save Nordic says that the criticism is "a good example of how a number of true statements lined up do not necessarily lead to a true conclusion". Nevertheless, they have been reported to the Consumer Ombudsman (KO).

In recent issues of Vi Föräldrar and Gravid there were advertisements from the company telling parents that the removal of umbilical blood containing stem cells, minutes after birth, could ensure the child had a chance of being cured from a range of future illnesses, including leukaemia.

The cost of the scheme runs to around 20 000 kr for 20 year storage. "It is a paradox that we insure cars, boats, and houses, when the most precious thing we have, our children, are not valued in the same way," said the advertisement.

"To say that umbilical blood can cure leukaemia is pure propaganda," counters Albert N Békássy, a Paediatrician responsible for stem cell transplants at Lund's university hospital.

When KO asked the Medical Products Agency (Läkemedelsverket) for advice it stated that there is no scientific support for the claims made by the company. Although KO has yet to make a decision, Cryo-Save has responded to all criticism by saying it will withdraw its advertising.

"We will change the information. We have stopped the advertisements due to misunderstandings," said the company's spokesman, Bjarne Nilsen, to Dagens Medicin.

Despite the confusion, Nilsen told The Local that his company's business is backed up by the medical evidence.

"There are solid reasons to believe that cord blood stem cells are as valid as a therapy as bone marrow stem cells," he said. "By mid 2003, more than 2000 transplants with cord blood stem cells had been done."

Nilsen said that the fact that the practice of using your own umbilical blood for treatment is not commonplace is not a reason to dismiss it as invalid.

"The fact that only very few patients have been treated with their own cord blood stem cells follows merely from the simple fact that 99.99% of the individuals no longer have their cord blood at their disposition - as it has been thrown away."

In an attempt to remedy this, Cryo-Nordic commissioned a special supplement last spring for the midwives' periodical 'Jordenmodern', in which it offered midwives a 'finder's fee' of 50 Euros for every client they brought into the scheme.

Jan Wahlström, Professor of Clinical Genetics at Sahlgrenska university hospital, and one of the first to report the company to KO, believes that it is taking unfair advantage of young parents' emotions and sense of responsibility.

In August Jan Wahlström and colleague Anders Fasth, an immunologist, wrote about their concerns in a leader in Göteborgs-Posten. Their greatest concern, they said, was that Cryo-Save is acting against internationally accepted ethical principles, and they warned in their article that today's technology for protection against future illness through the storage of umbilical blood could increase class differences in health care.

"An A-team could develop where there is money to store umbilical blood for the family, with all the advantages that it can entail, while a B-team has no access to these possibilities." They suggest that the storage of umbilical blood becomes routine and compulsory and part of the public health system.

Umbilical blood is taken from the placenta after the baby has been born. Since there is only a small amount of umbilical blood the amount of cells that can be used is limited. The cells are usually adequate for people up to 30 kg, and so these cell transplants are mainly used for children.

"Cord blood stem cells carry a lot of promise," said Bjarne Nilsen. "In order to confirm that cord blood stem cells are equal or better than bone marrow stem cells, it would be advisable to store cord blood stem cells."

Transplants are used for illnesses concerning metabolism and the immune system, as well as blood diseases. There are about 6-12 patients in Sweden who are treated in this way annually.

Sources: Göteborgs Posten, Dagens Medicin

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo is a certified Counsellor, specialising in bereavement, fertility and cultural assimilation issues. She also runs a support and discussion group for English speaking women. You can contact her on sizoo@swipnet.se, or 08 717 3769. More information on www.sizoo.nu.

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