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Why banking your baby’s precious cord blood matters


World Cord Blood Day was celebrated around the world on November 15, and every year, July is designated World Cord Blood month, but still very few people in the UK know about umbilical cord blood banking

Kate Sneddon, CEO of Plymouth-based Biovault Family, the only private laboratory in the UK that works for the NHS to process and store cord blood and tissue explains what it is and why.

Very few people know that when parents give birth, they have the option to collect the cord blood left in the placenta, and the new born baby’s cord.  These tissues are rich in potentially life saving stem cells which have the ability to treat over 80 conditions,  and have the advantage over other sources of cells that they have not been damaged by the environment or ageing process, and do not require to be so closely matched to the patient.  

We are also very excited about this service being expanded to treat autoimmune conditions, the most notable being multiple sclerosis (MS).

At birth parents have the option to discard these tissues and cells as medical waste, donate to a public bank or privately bank for their families use should they become ill in later life.

Since our creation in 2002, Plymouth-based Biovault has been at the forefront of the rapidly developing field of human cell and tissue processing and cryogenic storage.  Demand for services has grown, both here in the UK and Internationally, as doctors and scientists find more innovative and life-changing applications for human cells and tissue.  

Biovault is the South-West Peninsula Transplantation Service’s tissue establishment, and we work in partnership with local NHS hospitals as they perform stem cell transplants for patients.

Biovault provides the processing facilities and stores the patients’ or matched donors stem cells at cryogenic temperatures, -196°C, until they are ready to receive the cells. 

Whilst many patients treated by the transplantation service wouldn’t have had the chance to store their stem cells at birth a relatively new area of medicine is developing using stem cells from the umbilical cord.  An increasing number of families are choosing to bank for their own use, known as private banking and Biovault Family offers this service in the UK.  

Despite being available for nearly 20 years in the UK, the number of parents choosing this option is relatively low when compared to other countries across the world. This is primarily down to awareness, simply parents do not know they have the option as it is not routinely discussed during pregnancy.  This coupled with the fact that donation to public banks is through a limited number of hospitals only, means these precious cells often end up in the incinerator.  

There has also been considerable challenge with collection of the cord.  The Royal College of Midwives does not currently support private banking unless there is a medically indicated reason (although they are reviewing their position).  As a result, hospitals and midwifery teams have not put in place the systems and resources to facilitate the collection, resulting in the use of external personnel to attend the birth to make the collection. The recent move to delayed cord clamping as standard within the NHS can mean medical professionals and parents think collection of the cord and blood is not possible, and again it is dismissed without proper consideration.  

However, we see that making the decision to store our children’s umbilical stem cells is an act of bravery.  It means admitting the possibility of someone we love becoming seriously ill and deciding to take control of fear by putting in place this incredible biological protection.  

At Biovault we are not content with simply offering the existing service, we understand that parents rightly want to give their child the best start in life by delaying cord clamping, but realise they also want to protect them for the future.  Because of this we embarked upon a research programme, in partnership with University College London to look at how we can “replicate” stem cells using cords donated specifically for research. With the hope of providing a process to expand their number using pioneering technology.  This may allow not only the child to have protection, but other members of the family too.  

The field of stem cells, cellular therapies and regenerative medicine has developed rapidly over the last 30 years, but we are now on the cusp of new possibilities for the use of these precious cells.  There are 80 standard approved therapies using cord blood stem cells including Leukaemia, Lymphoma, Anaemias (including Fanconi Anaemia, Sickle cell disease and Beta Thalassaemia), inherited disorders of the immune system, inherited metabolic disorders and solid tumours such as Neuroblastoma and Retinoblastoma.  Clinical trials are ongoing looking at the use of the cells for Neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Stroke and Parkinson’s disease, Autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease and Multiple sclerosis, Cardiovascular disease, Diabetes and many more.

Working in the medical field requires that we work to the highest quality standards.  However, we go above and beyond the mandatory UK Human Tissue Authority (HTA) licence and have sought out two of the most exacting international accreditation: Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy Joint Accreditation Committee for ISCT and EBMT (FACT-JACIE) and the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB).  

We are truly proud to hold these accreditations which ensure we maintain our unique place as the leading private cell and tissue banking facility in the UK, and Biovault is the only private entity to have gained the FACT-JACIE accreditation. 

In addition to quality we are very proud of our ethics, as scientists and parents we care for every person and every cell in our care and put the wellbeing of people before profit.  

Interested? Download our brochure today – it’s got all you need to know about cord blood banking.

stem cell preservation

BSc (Hons) Microbiology

Chief Executive Officer | Biovault Family

Biovault Family CEO, Kate Sneddon, joined Biovault in July 2009 and became Chief Executive Officer in 2016. As health industry professional her experience includes working as a microbiologist and leader at GSK for over 10 years. Her expertise in cord blood banking has been recognised in her awards, features in Parliamentary Review and Parents Guide to Cord Blood, as well as contributions to research with UCL and others.

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Our hope is that the information in this brochure will empower you as you weigh-up your cord blood and tissue storage options and prepare for your family’s healthy future.

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