A London hospital has struck a £2 million deal to benefit from new mothers who donate their umbilical cord blood for life-saving transplants or research.
Croydon will receive medical services from the Precious Cells Miracle charity, help with research and a “nominal” share of any private deals agreed with parents wanting to bank their child’s stem cells for potential future use.
It is the first NHS trust to benefit financially from allowing access to cord blood and placentas from thousands of new mothers.
During early trials, about 80 per cent of pregnant women due to give birth at Croydon have agreed to donate – for free – the “waste” from the birth. The umbilical cord and placenta would otherwise be discarded.
Dr Salmaan Dalvi, a stem cell expert at Precious Cells, said: “It’s a giving process. All we tell the mother is if you can help save another life, a child who may need [a transplant], that is worth doing.
“They may never know that they have been able to, but that act of giving… can save a life or help towards a future therapy being developed.”
Following a child’s birth, Labour ward staff pass the cord and placenta to the charity’s lab workers waiting outside the delivery room. It is drained of blood in an adjacent room and taken to the charity’s laboratory in Uxbridge, where the stem cells are separated.
Precious Cells is in the process of applying for NHS Blood and Transplant approval to deposit the best samples – about a third of those taken – in the NHS cord blood bank.
There is a national shortage of stem cells, which are used in the treatment of patients with diseases such as leukaemia, sickle cell and lymphoma.
Croydon had been chosen because it had more than 4,000 births a year and a diverse population, meaning many cell types can be captured. Separate collections are needed for ethnic minorities and for Eastern Europeans, such as Poles.
Plans for collection are abandoned if a pregnancy becomes high risk or if the baby is born before 37 weeks.
The hospital earns a “nominal” fee if parents take up the option of privately banking their stem cells for potential future use should their child develop serious illness later in life. Private banking costs a one-off payment of £2,350 for 30 years or storage, or £17 a month.
Bini Ajay, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and head of Croydon hospital’s labour wards, said: “We have a high risk of diabetes, sickle cell disease, thalassaemia and other very unusual diseases in Croydon.
“If we can find a treatment for these diseases, we will pioneer the treatment for the whole of the UK.”
Lucy Simmons, 31, an airline flight attendant from Croydon, agreed to donate her cord blood when she gave birth to daughter Sydney-Belle 10 weeks ago.
She said: “It was a no-brainer for me. I think it’s a good thing to do. I lost my dad when I was 13 to cancer. I’m glad to be able to help for something that’s close to me.
“You grow this placenta for so many months. It’s nice to do something with it rather than it being put in the bin. It’s a very simply procedure. If they knew about this, I don’t think any mother would say no.”