VIPs and stars like Federica Panicucci, Ambra Angiolini, Federica Fontana, Justine Mattera, and many others are increasingly choosing to store their umbilical cord stem cells storage banks outside of the country for a possible future autologous (self) use. This has been dubbed as a sort of ‘biological insurance’ on the life of their children, allowed by Italian law only for infants that could help their brothers and sister struck by genetic diseases. These famous moms unknowingly risk spreading a false message, that the storage of umbilical cord stem cells for ‘private use’ is based on definite scientific research. “This is not true,” said ex-Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia, yesterday in Milan for the launch of a campaign to donate umbilical cord blood to be used by patients that need a life saving transplant for sicknesses like leukemia and lymphomas.
“I find the autologous storage of umbilical cord stem cells ethically questionable,” explained the immunohematology and transplant expert. Mainly because classic cell storage in government-run banks “is free” and the autologous storage of stem cells “is expensive”.
Foreign commercial banks offering this service “ask for an initial payment of about 1,000-2,000 euros –said Paolo Rebulla, director of the Centre for Transfusion Medicine, Cellular Therapy, and Cryobiology at the Milan Polytechnic Institute, the location of one of the two ‘Cord blood banks’ in the Lombardy region (the other is at the San Matteo General Hospital in Pavia) – and then there are annual fees to be paid” of even over 100 euros. “In my opinion it is a crime to mislead people,” said Sirchia. For this reason “an order that I made, which was at the time accused of fascist and Taliban-like, banned autologous storage. In reality I only wanted to protect citizens from misleading messages, which bordered on fraud,” specified the ex-minister. “And I am happy to see that this government resolved a mess after the previous government supported autologous storage”.
Autologous storage “distracts free and truly useful government controlled stem cell storage”, as well as the innocent aid of “some famous mothers”. Fortunately “90% of Italian mothers understand that what you do for another person can be useful to you in the future,” he said, adding that “a European regulation expressly bans the misleading claims regarding health benefits” including slogans that could feed false hopes of the the alleged virtues of some products that are not therapeutic. The real utility of storage for oneself also leaves Rebulla perplexed. “We need to resist the temptation to pay for biological insurance for which we do not know the real benefits,” he warned.
“In the future science may produce positive results,” he added, but “for the moment the only reality is shown in a study published in July by a scientist from New Zealand. The author listed a series of diseases, showing that government run storage is useful against a long list of diseases, while autologous storage is not helpful in treating any diseases”. Awaiting a counter-order based on well-defined evidence, these scientists are asking “to donate for everyone and not for yourself”.