Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Private cord blood banks are fooling the public, say doctors

Blood collected from umbilical cord after childbirth is a rich source of stem cells similar to those in bone marrow. These cells could some day be used as treatment if the child ever falls ill with certain diseases

Cord blood banking (CBB) with dubious benefits has become a moneymaking scam in India and needs tighter control to protect gullible parents from being exploited, top medical researchers say.

Blood collected from umbilical cord after childbirth is a rich source of stem cells similar to those in bone marrow. These cells could some day be used as treatment if the child ever falls ill with certain diseases.

The business of harvesting and storage of cord blood for future use has surged in the past decade into big business with 15 private banks offering this service. They target expectant mothers by touting cord blood as a form of "insurance" in case their children ever get sick.

The storage does not come cheaply. It costs between Rs.50,000 and Rs.100,000, and some banks charge an annual fee. With India reporting 25 million or more child births a year, CBB is viewed by the industry as a cash cow.

LifeCell, which set up shop in Chennai in 2004, claims it had over 100,000 subscribers and Cryo Stemcell in Bengaluru says it has 30,000. Others are not behind.

However, unethical marketing tactics and inflated promises by these largely unregulated banks have alarmed top stem cell researchers and professional bodies of gynaecologists.

"It is time to restrict the rampant commercialization of CBB," Jyothsna Rao, Secretary of the Bengaluru-based Society of Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering, told IANS.

"The government needs to establish a high powered committee to look at this menace at the earliest," says Satish Totey, a leading stem cell researcher and CEO of Kasiak Research in Mumbai.

The original idea for CBB was for overcoming the difficulty of finding a right bone marrow donor for regeneration of blood cells, Rao said. "But this very useful adjunct to bone marrow transplantation has been reduced by some companies to the status of a cosmetic product."

LifeCell, for instance, uses a prominent film star for endorsement and one bank in Bengaluru offers "attractive prizes" to mothers who bank with them.

"Several nasty marketing methods including bribing the doctors and nursing staff are used for recruiting donors," says Rao. Hospitals too are part of the scam, adds Totey.

Last year, the Competition Commission of India fined a Mumbai hospital that was getting Rs.20,000 from a cord blood bank as commission for every patient referred to it.

While in the US and Britain operators cannot advertise cord blood as a "life insurance", Totey said families in India were fooled by claims that it was a cure for all.

"Stem cell therapy for other than blood-related diseases and metabolic disorders are in the early phase of trials and remain only speculative," he said.

"I have been very vocal against private banks making claims that are all futuristic except few of the conditions," says Jayesh Sheth of the Foundation for Research in Genetics and Endocrinology in Ahmedabad.

In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of cord blood "only" for treatment of blood-related illnesses. It asks patients to "be sceptical if cord blood is being promoted for uses other than blood stem cell regeneration".

There are other hard facts these banks do not reveal to their subscribers.

For instance, the cord blood of a newborn may not contain stem cells in sufficient numbers to be useful in adulthood, says Deepa Bhartiya, head of stem cell biology at the National Institute of Research in Reproduction in Mumbai.

Also, one's own stem cells are not useful to treat genetic disorders as they will have the same genetic flaws that caused the disease in the first place.

"And no one really knows for how many years the banked cord blood will be usable," adds Totey.

"Our operators in India do not check the viability before releasing the stem cells for transplant and nobody bothers to discard contaminated samples."

LifeCell spokesperson Krithika Narayanan, however, denies this.

"Prior to release, the samples are tested for potency and viability through tests prescribed by the American Association of Blood Bank standards," she told IANS.

According to Totey, there were very few documented cases of a child receiving his or her own banked cord blood as treatment although the sibling or a close relative may benefit from it.

Hence, private banking of cord blood may be considered "only if there is a high-risk family medical history of disease(s) currently treatable by cord blood".

LifeCell admits that in ten years it released just 34 cord bloold units of which only five were for autologous transplants for treating cerebral palsy. The rest were for transplants in patients who were not the donors.

In its 11 years of existence Bengaluru's Cryo Stemcell released stem cells for 10 transplants, mostly in donor's relatives.

"In fact cord blood stem cell transplant numbers in India are miniscule and they are mostly for cancer and thalassemia," says Totey.

For all these reasons, Italy and France have banned private banking of cord blood. Both the American Academy of Paediatrics and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada discourage this practice while encouraging the storing in public banks that store cord blood free of cost and charge only when released for treatment.

"With public banks -- where large number cord blood units from HLA (human leukocyte antigen) matched donors are possible to store -- the benefits could reach a large patient population (besides the donor)," Rao said.

"Stored cord blood units to treat blood disorders can be done only with allogeneic (not one's own) units, which could be sourced from a public cord blood bank.

"A panel of eminent gynaecologists discussed the issue of cord blood banking at our Society's meeting in February and unanimously concluded that public banking is the only answer," Rao said. "We are against the concept of private banking." But who should promote public banks?

The Drug Controller General of India said that, being only a regulatory body, it was concerned only with licensing and not promoting them.

According to Totey, the issue was discussed earlier by the Department of Biotechnology and the Indian Council of Medical Research "but they were reluctant" to promote a public bank.


7.7 magnitude earthquake hits Nepal, tremors felt in Northern India, Kolkata to Mumbai

The epicentre of the earthquake was in Nepal and tremors were felt across the Northern India and from Kolkata to Mumbai

Most parts of northern India as well as central India and areas from Kolkata to Mumbai felt tremors for over a minute when an earthquake measuring 7.7 magnitude on Richter scale striked 80km east of Pokhara in Nepal.

At 11.44am, tremors were felt for a minute in Delhi, National Capital Region (NCR), Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh, Kolkata as well as Mumbai.


A strong earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale rocked Nepal at 11.41 a.m. India time, with tremors felt from Delhi to Guwahati and Srinagar to Jaipur. Even half an hour later, the aftershocks continued.
According to the India Meteorological Department, the depth of earthquake was 10 km and measured 6 on the Richter scale in India. The US Geological Survey said the epicentre was at Lamjung in Nepal - a district some 75 km northwest of capital Kathmandu.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: "News has come in about an Earthquake in Nepal. Several parts of India also experienced tremors."
He said that they were in the process of finding more information and "are working to reach out to those affected, both at home & in Nepal".
Reports from across north India said people scurried out of their homes and offices even as buildings shook due to the quake and the strong aftershocks.
The tremors were so strong that people feared for their lives. Some of them began to pray and tried to get as far away as possible from the buildings. Most ran to open grounds. Many of the high-rises saw people evacuate in large numbers.
"I suddenly found my chair shaking. I live on the fourth floor in an apartment. I just rushed out of my building...shouting and requesting people not to use the lift," said Ravindra Kumar, a resident at Sirsi road in Jaipur.
There was panic in Nepal which bore the brunt of the massive temblor. Besides capital Kathmandu and Besisahar in Lamjung, the cities which were affected include Bharatpur, Pokhara and Kirtipur.


(Source: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/)


Farmer suicides: Is moving from farms to factories the answer?

Arguably, the answer to farmers' suicides lies in boosting the agriculture sector through more irrigation facilities, provision of cheap credit and crop insurance, better marketing facilities after eliminating middle men and encouraging big retailers to step in, and making the availability of seeds and fertilizer much easier


The stir against land acquisition took a tragic and macabre turn when a farmer hanged himself during an Aam Admi Party (AAP) rally in the heart of the national capital. The mortifying episode only showed how the political exploitation of a complex problem was diverting attention from what really needed to be done.
Arguably, the answer to farmers' suicides lies in boosting the agriculture sector through more irrigation facilities, provision of cheap credit and crop insurance, better marketing facilities after eliminating middle men and encouraging big retailers to step in, and making the availability of seeds and fertilizer much easier.
Equally important are initiatives like weaning away the subsistence farmers from their lands which have ceased to be productive either through overuse or sub-divisions among successive generations of cultivators.
It is only through industrialisation that the pressure on such lands can be eased as the peasants move from farms to factories. A transition of this nature is the essence of development.
But Indian politicians are wary of following this line lest it shows them to be anti-farmer and pro-industrialist.
Such an image, they believe, will be detrimental to their political prospects because of the belief that the simple-minded toilers in the fields are the epitome of all virtues while the suited-and-booted businessmen are rapacious exploiters. Indeed, this romantic view of the countryside has been the stuff of Indian fiction and films for generations.
Hence Rahul Gandhi's tirade against the capitalists and against the Narendra Modi government for being in cahoots with them - "suit-boot ki sarkar", as he called the government.
Evidently, his sabbatical in a Buddhist monastery in Myanmar - if rumours are to be believed - has made even more of a Communist than the Communists themselves, for even the latter are not totally against private sector investments, including those from abroad. As the comrades have said, foreign investments are all right if they provide employment and bring in new technology.
However, for the 44-year-old prince of the Congress dynasty, a strident assumption of the role of a champion of the underprivileged is the only way for the party to emerge from the hole in which it now finds itself.
As a self-confessed admirer of his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, it is possible that Rahul Gandhi is harking back to her "garibi hatao" (remove poverty) pledge to breathe new life into the Congress.
But what worked for Indira four-and-a-half decades ago may not work at a time when socialism has collapsed worldwide - except in North Korea - and the Indian comrades themselves are now one of the weakest forces on the political scene.
To expect the "poor vs rich" gambit to succeed, therefore, is a shot in the dark, especially by someone who was born with the silver spoon in his mouth.
There are other reasons why the ploy is unlikely to work. As even a loyalist of the dynasty, Digvijay Singh, has acknowledged, the economic reforms lifted millions out of lowly poverty levels to join the ranks of the lower middle class, or the "neo middle class", as Modi calls them.
Moreover, these groups have acquired the mindset of the "aspirational" middle class, according to Digvijay Singh. As a result, they no longer care for subsidies but are eager to avail of the employment opportunities promised by Modi's emphasis on development.
Since an essential feature of the anticipated development is the prime minister's ace "Make in India" plans, the government's eagerness to push through the amended land acquisition law is understandable.
Unfortunately, the spate of farmers' suicides, and especially the one during the AAP rally, is likely to force the government to go slow.
Yet, the essential correctness of the industrialization process cannot be denied. Rahul Gandhi, therefore, can be said to be trying to turn the clock back by his anti-business stance.
In doing so, however, he is positioning himself against the Congress' own history considering that Jawaharlal Nehru favoured industrialization as his "dams are the temples of modern India" observation showed, and Rajiv Gandhi wanted to take the country into the 21st century.
Rahul Gandhi's present emphasis on "socialism", therefore, is tantamount to swimming against the tide.
He is also courting the danger of alienating the middle class - the "neos" and others - who evidently voted overwhelmingly a year ago for Modi's development agenda based on encouraging the private sector.
While Rahul Gandhi is playing the "socialist" card even if the Congress may find it difficult to sustain his anti-industry stance, Modi is dogged by ill-luck as the havoc caused by unseasonal rains and the continuing suicides show.
Notwithstanding his current troubles, however, he remains one of the few who has some idea of where he wants to take the country, whereas his opponents, of whom Rahul Gandhi and his mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, are the leading lights, are seemingly motivated by stalling industrialization even if it scuppers the prospect of the Indian growth rate overtaking China's in the near future, as has been forecast.



B. Yerram Raju

2 years ago

The content of the article is more focused on politics than economics. When Garibi Hatao slogan was aired by the grandmother of Rahul poverty was at 42% of the population. Today, by any count it is 25% of the population. The face of poverty has also changed with belly hunger shifting to information hunger. Most poor today hold mobile in their hands!The State Budgets still reveal still expenditures on social schemes taking more than 40% because the schemes for poor provide a window of opportunity to milk the not-so-hungry cow.

Agriculture is constitutionally a State subject, but, in practice, all policy decisions in its activity chain like Agriculture Credit, Procurement, MSP, fertilizer allocation and subsidy, and relief measures, etc., are in the domain of the Central Government. Indian farmer and the entire value chain in the farming sector, as a consequence, is a strangulated by regulations of over twelve ministries of GOI and at least six ministries of the State Government.
Farmers get their extension support and weather forecast on the mobile phones most of them own, but fail to secure the prices for their produce and agricultural market yards failed them. The result is about 3lakh suicides of farmers in key agri-intensive states across the country during the last one and half decades. The efforts to contain them have not even touched the fringe of the problem.
The recent RBI guidelines included the corporate farming as priority sector qualifying for softer interest rates. This would mean that the corporates gets the subsidy in the name of farming.

The small and marginal farmers get 7% of ANBC. Lending for agriculture has never reached the assigned 18% of ANBC in the history of priority sector dispensation and the RBI had no means of insisting on achieving this. The NSS data reveals large private debt and farmers in the south and particularly AP groaning in 82% debt. How can you prevent suicides of farmers with such lackadaisical approach from the government and institutional agencies?

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