Is it worth storing your baby’s cord blood? – The Fifth Estate

Is it worth storing your baby’s cord blood? – The Fifth Estate


♪ ♪ Habiba: The first moments
of a baby’s life, magical. But for the parents,
the responsibilities can also be daunting. How to keep your
child safe and protected? One way they are told,
bank your baby’s cord blood. Umbilical cord blood happens
to have a large number of young blood making cells in there. So the cord blood,
there is no question, it is life-saving. Habiba: Cord blood is full
of precious stem cells. Thousands of
life-saving transplants have been done
using them. They are especially successful
at treating sick kids. Hi!
Come on in, guys! Look, we’ve been invited in! Hello! Go on! What is it? Laila. Laila, hi! Come on in. My goodness. Such cuties! Habiba: These three moms
have each paid thousands of dollars to store their
children’s cord blood. What was the process, um,
that you went through to make up your mind about
whether to do it or not? What I had heard
about it mostly is, um, how much it can help–
potentially help in the future with certain diseases. I didn’t, and I still
don’t really see, sort of, any cons. It’s really such an
invaluable thing– An investment basically. –to do. Investment
and insurance, really. -It’s insurance, yeah. Is sort of how I look at it. You know, knock on wood,
God forbid anything was to ever happen. Should something happen, and
I had made that choice not to store for her, I don’t think
I could ever forgive myself. Habiba: Of course, in a
perfect world they will never have to cash in on
this investment. Announcer: Pregnant?
Congratulations! Habiba: In the last decade,
hundreds of private companies have popped up world wide
capitalizing on the magic
of stem cells. Did you store your
children’s cord blood? Of course I did! Habiba: It’s reportedly
a billion dollar industry. Voice-Over: Why choose
Insception Lifebank? Habiba: Insception Lifebank
is the largest private cord blood bank in Canada. They say they have stored cord
blood from 70,000 babies. For two to three
thousand dollars, they promise peace of mind. Anu, Coleen and Gillian gave
birth in different hospitals but they all went with
Insception Lifebank. What do you think are
the chances if you guys needed to use
the cord blood? If your child, worst case
scenario, had leukemia, do you think that, that–
is your understanding that that could be used to help them? Colleen: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean,
nothing’s guaranteed, and it’s not 100 per cent,
but my understanding is that it’s one of the main things
it could help with. Habiba: That was a key
factor in their decision. So was the reputation of
Insception and the seeming endorsement of the
company by leading hospitals. And did it help you feel more
confident or comfortable, the fact that the company
you chose had an office right at the–
inside the hospital? It did, yeah. Them being right sort of
in the same area as all the obstetricians sort of gave
me a lot of confidence. Even in my discussion
with the representative, I was really comfortable
with everything she had to say. Habiba: We wanted to know
more about what Insception says to prospective moms. Mount Sinai is one of a few
hospitals where the company has an office. It’s also where Insception was
founded by two scientists in 2004. So our pregnant CBC
colleague made an appointment. We’re going to have a little
bit of a consult to give me some more information about the
services that they provide. Habiba: The very first thing
you see when entering the women’s unit…posters
advertising the private cord blood banking service. Here’s what she was told
about cord blood banking. Habiba: Dr. Donna Wall,
one of the leading transplant specialists in Canada, agreed
to watch the footage with us. Habiba: The representative
hands us a list with eighty life-threatening diseases
cord blood can treat. Well, it’s a factually
correct statement. Right. You know, but it’s
out of context. Habiba: And here’s why. Turns out most of those 45,000
transplants were done thanks to the public
cord blood banks. Voice-Over: Like organ
transplantation, stem cell transplantation involves
finding the best match. Habiba: It may not be widely
known but doctors can tap into worldwide public registries
with almost a million donors for a match and it’s free. Back inside Mount Sinai,
the pitch gets more specific. Dr. Wall: There’s elements
of truth, you know, in what’s being said,
the cells can be used in that setting of treating
some solid tumours. In the setting of leukemia we
would not use their own cells. In the setting of
a genetic defect, we would not use
their own cells because we’d be giving
the same problem back. It doesn’t make sense. Habiba: It’s our choice,
the representative says, but we’re also reminded that
this is medical insurance for the baby. So this is the life insurance
part of the story and this part I do have trouble with,
because with the amount of data to support, or the lack of
data to support this approach, I just– it’s just
not fair to families, because you’re hitting families
in a vulnerable time and for right now it’s an oversell. [Children’s voices] Habiba: Dr. Wall
isn’t alone. The American Academy
Of Pediatrics has this advice for families. There is one exception
where a child has a known genetic defect. In that case, if the mom gets
pregnant again the family might want to bank the
sibling’s cord blood. Voice-Over: Insception
Cord Blood Program’s state-of-the-art 16,000
square foot facility… Habiba: Insception Lifebank
says they are proud of the services they offer. In an email to The Fifth Estate,
they say they have used sibling cord blood stored
at Insception for treatments, and they also say they fund
ongoing medical research involving the potential future
utility of cord blood. When we come back,
should a public hospital endorse a private service? It’s not a practice that
a publicly funded hospital should actually promote. ♪ ♪ Habiba: It’s a top hospital
in bustling downtown Toronto. Voice-Over: We strive
for new models of care that support… Habiba: Mount Sinai serves
around 100,000 patients a year and specializes in women
and infant care as well as cancer treatment. It supplements public funding
with private partnerships, like the one with
Insception Lifebank. But how does that
relationship work? We spent more than a year
requesting documents from the hospital and here is
what we can tell you. In 2016, the hospital made
more than $2.6 million from the sale of Insception
to an Australian company. Documents show Mount Sinai
agreed to give access to potential clients and permitted
Insception to leverage the relationship with
Mount Sinai hospital to promote the cord blood program. For every unit of cord blood
Insception banks through Mount Sinai, the hospital
collects $125 and an annual fee of $50,000 from Insception. It’s not a practice that
a publicly funded hospital should actually promote. Habiba: We took these
documents and contracts to University Of Toronto’s
health law and policy professor, Trudo Lemmens. What stood out to you
in those documents? You have a public hospital–
publicly funded hospital that provides services in
the public healthcare system and basically promotes,
indirectly, privileged contact with patients. But I find it indeed disturbing
that because of the funding that they receive for this service,
that they’re basically promoting a practice which I would say
from a medical perspective doesn’t seem to be the
best standard of care. It’s not illegal for hospitals
to outsource part of their facilities for money
that presumably goes back to the hospital. Yeah, so it may indeed
not be illegal but it doesn’t make it–
it doesn’t make it right. Habiba: Mount Sinai
wouldn’t speak to us on-camera, but in a statement they told
us the money they receive from Insception is used to support
clinical research and other investments in patient care. ♪ ♪ Do you like it here? [Simultaneously chatter] Habiba: We meet up with
the moms again to report back what we learned. You guys probably saw
there’s a list of, like, 80 things it’s cured, right? Yeah. That list refers to
procedures done through the public registry. [gasps] And cord blood technically has
cured from– these 80 different types of diseases but it’s not–
the source is not private. That’s really tricky
and misleading. Wow, okay. Very interesting. Habiba: We also share that
if a child needs a transplant, in most cases, it can’t be done
using the child’s own cord blood because it likely would also
contain the damaged cells. You would want it
to be a different person. Those cells would’ve
been present in the umbilical cord blood. Exactly. Yes. The child’s DNA. Which makes sense,
now, thinking about it. Sure, I mean it’s all very
logical when you explain it the way she explains it. How would you even know
what questions to ask? When I signed up for it,
nobody told me that, you know, oh, actually if
she was to get leukemia, you know, you can’t use her own. I feel like you’re in a
very, like, emotional state when you’re making
these decisions. But at the end of the day
I find it honestly a little disheartening that this kind of
information is not provided by our doctors. Habiba: By Insception’s
own account, they’ve stored the cord blood of 70,000 babies
and the number of those released for transplant, fourteen. So if I came to you
and I said, you know, we’re expecting a child and
we’re considering doing this private cord blood banking for
our child, what would you say? It’s not my role to
tell you what– how to live your life but if you took
that two thousand dollars I would put it towards
the soccer fund, the piano lessons, all the other
things that are going to go into helping you raise
the world’s best child. Piano lessons is more useful
in this case than banking? Yeah. On a final note,
after our inquiries, Insception Lifebank changed its
website to acknowledge that in the case of leukemia, the
child’s own cord blood would likely not be used. As for Mount Sinai,
they informed us this week that they have now put up
a sign to acknowledge the hospital’s financial
interest in cord blood collected through Insception. And that a process is
underway to identify further opportunities to
improve transparency. ♪ ♪