To bank or not to bank: the stem cell question

 

The Ross and Deana families chose to take advantage of Discovery Health's exclusive partnership with Netcells, Next Biosciences' umbilical cord stem cell storage service and banked their children's stem cells for potential future medical use.

Bank baby's stem cells and invest in your child’s future health

"We have banked both our children's stem cells," explains Dominique Deana mother of a three-year-old daughter and one-month-old son. "I researched and pondered it significantly with the first baby. With the second, it was a given."

With every new pregnancy comes a host of choices to be made by mum and dad, not least of which is the choice of whether to collect the baby's umbilical cord blood and tissue stem cells at birth and bank them for potential future medical use. "The words stem cells gets thrown around but I didn’t ever truly understand what the term meant," says mum to a two-year-old son, Nicola Ross.

Stem cells have the potential to safeguard your child's future health when it comes to treating illnesses and conditions as well as regenerating damaged or diseased tissues. Keeping in mind that they are not a cure-all, scientists the world over continue to establish therapeutic promise when it comes to these cells. Pamphlets advertising stem cell banking are today ubiquitous in gynaecologists’ rooms and articles about stem cell banking are prolific in Pregnancy Magazines.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are the original building blocks of life, the cells that, as the baby develops, differentiate into all the specialised cells that make up the human body. Examples include mesenchymal stem cells which form fatty tissue, ligaments, skin, muscle, nerves and more, haematopoietic stem cells which create blood cells and neural stem cells which create cells in the nervous system. So, while stem cells are found in the adult body and continually maintain and repair tissues, harvesting them is difficult and they are largely restricted to forming the tissue they are found in.

However, umbilical cord blood and tissue both contain large numbers of so-called perinatal stem cells that are new and can potentially differentiate into any of the 200-odd types of cells that make up the human body. They're called pluripotent for this very reason. Furthermore, as the umbilical cord and placenta are normally discarded as medical waste, collecting umbilical cord blood and tissue at birth is a process free of moral, ethical and religious concerns. They are also less likely to cause complications in transplants from donor to patient. Stem cells represent a perfect donor match for the baby who they've been collected from, and pose no risk of rejection when transplanted. There is also a good possibility (1 in 4) that the stem cells will be a suitable match for a sibling.

Harvesting happens as soon as baby is born

"I signed up with Netcells online and it was all very easy," says Nicola. "A Netcells consultant met Nicola and her husband Michael at the hospital after one of her scans, explained everything and gave her a collection kit box containing everything their Gynae needed to do the collection at the birth of their baby. "There is a trust and comfort level," adds Nicola. "When I realised that my baby would not be touched in the process it was easy to go ahead with umbilical cord blood and tissue stem cell banking. If I have questions Netcells are a phone call away. And, once you have sent them a message to say your baby has been born, they spring into action to collect the collection kit immediately."

As soon as Nicola’s son was born, their Gynae and the nurses at Life Fourways Hospital in Johannesburg collected the stem cells. "The nurses were 100% familiar with the Netcells process and just took over," says Nicola. A courier collected the kit and two to three days later they got a call to say that the cord blood and tissue had been processed, the stem cells were viable and had been successfully stored.

Dominique Deana gave birth at the Durban’s Netcare Parklands Hospital and had a caesarean section after 12 difficult hours of labour. As soon as they arrived at the hospital, they informed their Gynae and the nurses that they would be collecting stem cells and the doctors and nurses handled the collection and once processed Netcells let them know that the stem cells had been successfully banked.

Banking stem cells: Investing in the future of a child's health

Dominique's father-in-law fought cancer for seven years before succumbing to the illness in December 2010. His loss affected the family deeply. Dominique's mother-in-law funded the banking of her grandchildren's stem cells in her husband's memory and as a gift to her son Kevin and daughter-in-law Dominique. "As much as we don't now know that stem cells will cure a child of cancer, we do know that constant advances in medicine are opening the door to stem cells proving life-saving in the future," says Dominique. "As a parent, you pray you never see the day when a life-threatening illness affects in your child. Yet, it would be even more heart-wrenching to be faced with an illness that stem cells could cure and not have access to them. They are almost another form of health insurance in the face of illness."

Nicola agrees: "We do have a cancer history on both sides of the family and there's no telling what the applications of stem cells for cancer treatment could be in the future. Knowing we banked my son's stem cells makes me feel good. I know that if something were to happen to him it would be terrifying. But we have this little bit of insurance now."

Both Nicola and Dominique would highly recommend the process to other parents.  Dominique continues: "I am big on not having regrets. Yes, banking stem cells represents financial sacrifice, but if there is one percent chance that your child could be faced with an illness that stem cells could assist with, it is all worth it in the end."


Discovery Health makes banking baby's stem cells more affordable

Members of selected schemes administered by Discovery Health can get up to 25% off the stem cell banking fee when they register to store their baby's stem cells with Netcells. The discount applies to the Netcells Banking Fee and the amount depends on the payment plan you choose:

  • 25% discount on payment upon registration,
  • 15% discount on payment on stem cells being successfully banked or
  • 10% discount on payment on a payment plan

Netcells offers flexible storage options and interest-free payment plans allowing you to tailor-make a plan to suit your needs. The expenses related to stem cell banking will not be covered by your scheme. The cash discount that is offered is passed directly on to you and is not paid from your health plan benefits.

Dominique and Kevin opted to bank their babies' cord blood and tissue stem cells for 20 years and the Ross's for 10 years and both have the option to extend the storage period at a later stage. Both also chose to bank stem cells from both umbilical cord blood and tissue. The Deana's paid in full upfront which entitled them to the maximum Discovery Health discount. The Ross’s  selected the two-year payment plan which made paying for stem cell banking that much easier and more affordable.

"When I entered all my Discovery Health details there was a decent discount on the total cost," says Dominique. "We also felt strongly that if the likes of Discovery Health recognises the benefit of parents storing stem cells and are on board with this process there must be value in it. I know that a lot of consideration goes into anything Discovery Health affiliate themselves with. That added to my trust level. Discovery Health's stamp of approval on something tells us we will see the benefit long-term.”

Nicola and Michael had a similar experience: "We got a big discount of around 15 % off the banking fee.

For more information about umbilical cord stem cell banking, please contact Netcells by telephone on 011 697 2900 or email at info@nextbio.co.za or visit  www.nextbio.co.za/netcells

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