Priyanka Ajay, 32, celebrated her second son Aryan’s birth in an unusual way. She got the newborn’s umbilical cord cells banked for 21 years for use against possible future disease.
Time: 21 years
Stem Cell Disorders
Sickle Cell Disease
Immune System Disorders
Plasma Cell Disorders
Spinal Cord Injury
Gurgaon-based Dr Mubarak Naqvi and his wife Zareen, too, got their yet-unnamed daughter’s cord stem cells banked as an ultimate health safeguard two weeks ago.
“We even considered cord-cell banking for our firstborn, Ali, six years ago. But we were in the US then, and cord-cell banking was very new and expensive, so we decided against it,” says Zareen, an engineer-turned-fulltime mom. “The fact that it was so affordable in India made it very easy for us to decide in its favour,” she adds.
It costs Rs 70,000 to bank your child’s cord cells for 21 years, but now some companies are offering installment options. “Paying Rs 8,500 as the first installment with monthly installment of Rs 2,600 for the first 11 months, followed by annual charges of 3,500 for the next 20 years makes it all very affordable,” says Ajay, who chose the scheme with the Gurgaon-based Cryobank India.
Blood from a baby’s discarded umbilical cord is increasingly being saved by young parents because it is the richest source of stem cells — the building blocks of the blood and immune systems. Most people choose to bank their baby’s cord blood for health security, so that a perfect match for the baby is available for treatment, should such a need arise.
Some have an existing medical need, such as a history of disease in the family or a someone in the family who needs stem cells for treatment. Still others opt for it because they are excited about the possibilities that medical science would provide in the future.
“It’s like a health insurance policy for your child that can benefit him or her throughout their lives,” says Ajay, who, like the Naqvis, was not prompted by a medical compulsion such as a family history of thalassaemia or cancer to opt for banking.
Reliance, Cryobank and the Chennai-based LifeCell are three such repositories for cord-blood cells collected from across the country. “These cells can be harvested easily from the umbilical cord of newborns at no risk to mum or baby, and given the fact that they can be used to treat siblings, parents and even grandparents, the benefits are tremendous,” says businessman Manav Chawla, 29, who got his daughter Nysa’s blood banked.
“Interest in cord blood banking is so huge that we have started an installment scheme for those who cannot pay Rs 70,000 at one go for 21 years of storage,” says Dr Chaitanya V Neriker, CEO of Cryobanks International India. “The company banked 1,500 samples within a year of its launch and has plans to increase its collection centers across the country from 18 to 50 by March this year,” he adds.
Currently, stem-cells harvested from cord cells are used to treat 45 diseases and conditions such as thalassaemia, leukemia, sickle-cell anaemia, and several cancers, while trials are on to track their use in treating stroke, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s etc (see box). While a perfect tissue match — 6/6 or 5/6 — is a must for bone marrow transplantation, matches as close as 4/6 are enough with stem cells harvested from the umbilical cord, pushing up chances of a match for siblings and family.
Cord blood stem cells are a perfect match for the baby from whom they are harvested, and have a 25 per cent chance of being an exact match and a greater chance of being a viable match for a sibling. They can also be potentially used for parents and grandparents. Since it is easy to obtain from the umbilical cord, cord blood has lower procurement costs compared with peripheral blood or bone marrow harvesting. Other advantages are off-the-shelf availability, no risk to donor and a lower rate of viral contamination.
“There is also an altruistic advantage. If the blood is not used to treat the baby from whom it was obtained, parents or sibling, and the family does not want to pay for its banking after 21 years, they can donate it to provide a match for someone else,” says Zareen.