Is cord blood banking a scam?

Cord blood banking is a rapidly growing industry in India, with 15 private banks offering the service of harvesting and storing cord blood for future use. Cord blood contains stem cells similar to those in bone marrow and can be used for treatment if the child ever falls ill with certain diseases. However, the cost of cord blood banking in India is quite high, with prices ranging from Rs.50,000 to Rs.100,000 and some banks charging an annual fee. Additionally, there is concern about the ethics of the industry, with reports of unethical marketing tactics and inflated promises by largely unregulated banks. This has led top medical researchers to call for tighter control to protect gullible parents from being exploited by what they consider to be a money-making scam.

Despite the surge in popularity of cord blood banking, top stem cell researchers and professional bodies of gynaecologists have expressed concerns about the industry. They are alarmed by the unethical marketing tactics and inflated promises by the largely unregulated banks. Furthermore, they argue that private banking of cord blood may be considered “only if there is a high-risk family medical history of disease(s) currently treatable by cord blood”. Other hard facts that banks do not reveal to their subscribers include the possibility that the cord blood of a newborn may not contain stem cells in sufficient numbers to be useful in adulthood, and one’s own stem cells are not useful to treat genetic disorders as they will have the same genetic flaws that caused the disease in the first place. For these reasons, some countries like Italy and France have banned private banking of cord blood. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada discourage this practice while encouraging the storing of cord blood in public banks that store cord blood free of cost and charge only when released for treatment.