Stem cells proving popular gift
By Julie Clothier for CNN
Smart Cells International stores stem cells from newborn babies' umbilical cords.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- It may not be your average Christmas present or gift for a newborn baby, but a British-based company says grandparents looking for a gift with a twist are increasingly investing in stem cells for their grandchildren.
Smart Cells International, which has offices in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, told CNN that Christmas was proving a busy time for the company.
Director Shamshad Ahmed said the company had started selling gift vouchers in response to customer demand, as grandparents in particular wanted to contribute money towards the cost of storing newborn babies' stem cells, for future use.
The company stores stem cells from newborn babies' umbilical cords.
Blood is extracted from the cord once it has been detached from the baby and while the placenta is still inside the womb.
Ahmed said the cells could be used in patients who had blood disorders, including blood cancers such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia, and some genetic blood disorders.
"We take, store and hopefully never have to use them but we just don't know what the applications for future use of stem cells will be," he said.
An obstetrician or midwife extracts the 60ml blood sample immediately after birth using a a kit, worth £125 ($220), supplied by the company. It is then sent to the company's lab in Plymouth, southern England, via courier.
Smart Cells International began five years ago and now has about 5,000 customers.
Ahmed said the first case where cells stored by the company were put to use took place in the United Arab Emirates two weeks ago.
The case involved a four-year-old boy who has benefited from a transplant using cells from a one-year-old sibling, whose cells had been extracted and stored at the time of birth.
Ahmed would not give further details because it can take weeks to determine whether the operation has been a success because of the period it takes for the cells to graft, he said.
But he believed the case would be the first of many.
"If someone said to me, 'I want to buy my grandchild some stem cells because I am worried they will get leukemia,' then I would tell them not to because the chances of getting the disease are slim," he said.
"The reason to store stem cells is future applications for stem cells. You only get one chance to get these cells in a non-invasive way. It's like a healthcare insurance policy."
The total cost of the service is £1,250 ($2,215), which includes storage for 25 years.
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