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Q&As about Virgin Health Bank
This section contains some of the questions we're often asked about the company. If you have another one, call our customer support advisors on 0845 620 9665. We're here from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday.
Q&As about banking cord blood stem cells
Here are some of the questions we're often asked about banking cord blood stem cells. If you have another one, call our customer support advisors on 0845 620 9665. We're here from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday.
What does Virgin Health Bank do?
Our specially trained Customer Advisors provide parents with honest and accurate information about cord blood stem cell banking enabling them to make truly informed choices. We do not sell to them or try to persuade them to use our services.
We provide an HTA licensed state-of-the-art processing and storage service for parents who would like to store the stem cells from their newborn baby’s umbilical cord blood.
Why is Virgin involved in umbilical cord blood stem cell banking?
We believe that all parents should be able to choose whether or not to store their baby’s cord blood stem cells and that they should be able to obtain accurate information on which they can base their decision from an ethical source whose integrity they trust.
Along with many scientists and doctors, we passionately believe in the potential of cord blood stem cells for both the treatment of diseases today and for accessing the benefits of regenerative medicine in the future. Virgin Health Bank was founded to provide parents with an accessible state-of-the-art processing and storage service for their baby’s stem cells and to promote this exciting development in medical technology.
How does the Virgin Health Bank service work?
If you have chosen our Family Banking service or our Community Banking you will be informed once your baby's stem cells have been safely collected, tested and stored. If you have chosen our Community Banking service then we will separate the unit into two elements. Your family’s portion of the unit will be treated in exactly the same way as those in our Family Banking service. It is your family’s and nothing will be done to it or with it without your express written permission. We will test the cells to determine the HLA type. Information on the element of the stem cell unit that you have chosen to donate to the community will be included on an international registry alongside those of others. The registry provides real hope to families and individuals afflicted with diseases where cord blood stems cells are approved for treatment. Doctors use this registry as a resource from which they can request donated cord blood for treatments. These are used in circumstances where a tissue typed, donated unit is required rather than the patient's own. By contributing to the development of this international registry you maximise the availability of stem cells for the treatment of your family and others. By helping others you also help yourself by helping to develop a community stem cell bank from which your own family may benefit.
Isn’t there already a public cord blood bank in the UK?
Yes. In a handful of hospitals in and around London, parents can arrange to donate their baby's cord blood stem cells to the Haematopoietic Stem Cells Services Division of the National Blood Service. These are called 'altruistic donations' and once donated the units are available to anyone who may need them.
What are Virgin Health Bank’s credentials for this?
At Virgin Health Bank we believe that every parent should be able to choose to bank their baby’s cord blood stem cells and that they should have access to honest and accurate information on which to base their decision. We work with transplant surgeons to ensure that the stem cell units that are produced are meet requirements for units that will be used for transplants. We have a laboratory that has earned a Human Tissue Authority license. We comply with all relevant UK and EU regulatory standards, and get on-going advice from independent scientific, medical, ethical, and medico-legal experts.
Is Virgin Health Bank involved in research using stem cells?
Virgin Health Bank is not involved in research using stem cells.
Is Sir Richard Branson involved in this business?
Sir Richard Branson is passionate about the opportunities for stem cell transplantation and regenerative medicine.
How do I find out more or apply to have my baby’s stem cells stored?
Just call us on 0845 620 9665. We're here from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, or click on apply now and you can leave your contact details for one of our Customer Advisors to call you back.
How long before my due date do I need to join?
Ideally, you should have at least one month left before your due date as its best not to rush your decision, there’s some important paperwork to be completed and we need to make sure you have the collection kit in time for your baby’s birth.
Who are the Virgin Health Bank Customer Advisors?
The Virgin Health Bank Customer Advisors are a specially trained team wholly dedicated to working with parents to be. They are there to provide accurate information about cord blood banking and Virgin Health Bank’s services and support parents with their applications.
If I chose the Community Banking service is the unit that’s been donated to the public bank available to me?
Yes. The cord blood stem cell unit placed in the public bank is donated and made available for anyone needing it for transplantation. If you need the cord blood unit back for a medical reason, and it's still available, then we will liaise with you and your doctor and arrange to return it.
What are umbilical cord blood stem cells?
Stem cells are considered to be the body’s “Master Cells”. They are known by this description, because they have the following unique properties:
Stem cells for transplantation can come from yourself (this is called an autologous transplant) or from a donor (this is called an allogeneic transplant).
Scientists already know how transplanted cells can be used to treat some illnesses - they're used today, mainly in allogeneic transplants, to treat cancers of the blood such as leukaemias, and blood disorders such as sickle cell anaemia and beta thalassemia.
What’s the difference between these stem cells and embryonic stem cells?
Cord blood stem cells are classed as “adult stem cells” and scientists believe they are the closest to embryonic stems cells in terms of their ability to form new cell types and tissues. This is why there is such scientific and medical interest in the potential of cord blood stem cells to treat disease. Embryonic stem cells by contrast are found in very early embryos up to a few weeks after conception. These cells have the potential to form any of the tissue types that make up the human body. Virgin Health Bank has no involvement whatsoever with embryonic stem cells.
What is regenerative medicine?
Regenerative medicine is the branch of medicine which deals with replacing, engineering or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function. It commonly involves the use of stem cells, including form the umbilical cord blood, for the treatment of diseases.
I’ve heard that storing my baby’s cells may help if he or she develops a blood disorder like childhood leukemia. Is that true?
It is likely that your baby’s own cord blood stem cells may not be suitable to treat blood disorders such as childhood leukaemia. In fact, the nature of childhood leukaemia means that stem cells from a matched donor (an allogeneic transplant) are more likely to be of used than your child’s own stem cells (an autologous transplant). This is due to the fact that in this case, your child’s own stem cells would be considered to be pre-leukaemic and as such, would further contribute to your child’s leukaemic condition.
What can cord blood stem cells be used to treat now?
Stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood are used today to treat a number of blood diseases, including hematologic (blood) disorders, oncologic disorders, immune deficiencies, and metabolic disorders – all-in-all eighty plus diseases. More interesting though is the potential – early results indicate that cord blood stem cells could have future possibilities in the treatment of a wide range of diseases. Current research includes stem cell treatment for heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, strokes, osteoporosis, skin burns, osteoarthritis and tendon, muscle and ligament injuries.
What do allogeneic and autologous mean?
These are both terms used to describe transplants. An allogeneic transplant involves taking donated stem cells from one person and transplanting them to another person. An autologous transplant means that your own cells have been taken and transplanted back into you. At the moment the majority of stem cell transplants are allogeneic, as very few people have stem cells stored for their own use.
How likely is my child to need its own stem cells?
Haematopoietic stem cells can be found in umbilical cord blood, bone marrow or in peripheral blood. During a lifetime of 70 years the likelihood of a person requiring a transplant of their own haematopoietic stem cells (an autologous transplant) has been estimated at 1 in 435. During a lifetime of 70 years the likelihood of a person requiring a transplant of their own or another's stem cells (an autologous or allogenic transplant) has been estimated at 1 in 217*
*Reference: JJ Nietfield, MC Pasquini, BR Logan, F. Verter, MM Horowitz
Lifetime Probabilities of Hematopoetic Stem Cell Transplantation in the U.S.
Published in: Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation 2008;14:316-322
Why does a cord blood stem cell unit have to be matched?
Just as everyone has a blood type, so everyone has a tissue type – and stem cells are a type of tissue. The human body is designed to reject anything it sees as foreign, and so it will fight off a tissue type it does not recognise. The closer matched tissue types are less likely to be rejected or cause serious complications.
If I had a condition that would benefit from a cord blood stem cell transplant, couldn’t I simply get units provided by the NHS?
Only if there was a matched bone marrow or cord blood unit available and some ethnicities have very limited representation on the international registries of available units . By creating another source of cord blood units, Virgin Health Bank is increasing the likelihood of people finding a suitable match. And if regenerative medicine advances as predicted, people may also need access to their own, stored umbilical cord stem cells.
Who will collect my cord blood?
The Human Tissue Authority (HTA), the government body that licenses companies which store human tissue in the UK, mandates that only appropriately qualified people (such as midwives, nurses, phlebotomists or doctors) may do the collection. If the person doesn’t fit this description, we can't process or store the umbilical cord blood unit.
Is it true that collecting cord blood distracts the midwife from helping with the birth?
Normally, collecting umbilical cord blood is a straightforward process and shouldn’t interfere with the care of the mother and her baby as their wellbeing must always the main priority. If there was any possibility that the collection could interfere with the care of either, the collection should not take place.
What if I’m planning to give birth in a hospital where they can’t or won’t collect the cord blood
Not all maternity units have the same view about cord blood collection. If you're concerned, or are having problems arranging the collection of your baby’s cord blood call us and will do our best to assist you.
The Human Tissue Authority (HTA), the government body that licenses companies which store human tissue in the UK, mandates that only appropriately qualified people (such as midwives, nurses, phlebotomists or doctors) may do the collection. If the person doesn’t fit this description, we can't process or store the umbilical cord blood unit. Not all maternity units have the same view about cord blood collection. If you're concerned, or are having problems arranging the collection of your baby’s cord blood call us and will do our best to assist you.
Are cord blood collections always successful?
Every birth is unique so there can be no guarantees – the wellbeing of both mother and baby must always take top priority. The collection is a painless, straightforward technique which rarely results in anything less than a successfully processed and stored product. If there is a problem we will get in touch with you straightaway and do everything possible to make sure you enjoy the best possible outcome.
What UK rules and regulations cover the collection and storage of cord blood stem cells?
The Human Tissue Authority (HTA) is responsible for the authorisation and licensing of private and public banks engaged in the storage of human tissue. Virgin Health Bank holds an HTA licence for the collection of cord blood and the processing and storage facility also holds an HTA licence. It is a legal requirement to hold a valid HTA license to provide this service. This means that our facilities are fully compliant with UK regulations and have been inspected and approved by independent, government-approved experts on cord blood stem cell storage. If you’d like to know more about the HTA, please visit their website at: www.hta.gov.uk