More that 225 thousand umbilical cord blood samples cryopreserved in a failed Swiss stem cell bank are missing. However, today’s problems of the involved company were largely predictable and do not compromise all stem cell banks reliability. Let’s walk it through to learn how to make sure the stem cell bank you choose to cryopreserve your son’s umbilical cord blood is reliable.

The umbilical cord blood stem cell bank collapse

The families involved in this incident cryopreserved their son’s umbilical cord blood in a stem cell bank with laboratories in Switzerland. Cryopreservation would have lasted 20 years, but the stem cell bank failed. Some parents were only informed of a subcontract agreement with some Polish laboratories to go on with the cryopreservation. However, several families were not able to track down the blood they cryopreserved.

Families involved want to take legal and class actions. However, the situation is not the same as the collapse of a banking institution: stem cells cryopreserved in a biobank cannot be economically evaluated in an adequate way. That is why this incident should give rise to reflections on the need of putting umbilical cord blood samples in the hands of reliable and economically stable companies.

In the case of the failed Swiss biobank, the collapse was largely predictable. In fact, forward-looking costs that the company accumulated by selling the 20-years cryopreservation service could not have been covered with by the declared savings. The possibility of a cost coverage based on the income form new customer (that would have been the expression of a so-called “Ponzi scheme”) was erased by the profound sector crisis.

An aggressive commercial practice

Several companies offering umbilical cord blood cryopreservation choose a particularly aggressive commercial practice, without annual fee and with a sale price sufficient to cover immediate but not long-term cryopreservation costs. There could be at least two reasons behind this approach: companies could have thought market would have increased forever and that the price payed by new customers would have covered costs generated by hold ones; otherwise, companies could have needed to sell their service to satisfy customer expectations.

Giuseppe Mucci, Bioscience Institute CEO, talked about the negative situation of several companies in october 2011 during the Miami Cell Transplant Society (CTS) and International Xenotransplantation Association (IXA) congress. He highlighted these companies accumulated several millions of euros of forward-looking costs even if declared savings where weak. Companies seem to be in a good situations, however if they would have revealed real forward-looking costs they could have been considered failed already at the time. But these costs were overlooked with the unintentional complicity of the auditing firms that certified the balances. «The share and the banks would have surely assumed a different positions if they would have known the real economic and financial situation», Mucci says.

In 2012 Bioscience Institute CEO produced a document analyzing cryopreservation annual costs. This document shows the high default risk associated with the commercial practice of companies that offer a one-time payment without annual fee. This document was consigned and registered by the Health, Industry, Finance and Authority Secretary of State of the country in which Bioscience Institute works. «Last months sequence of events shows that the commercial practice that includes the annual fee ensures greater security by providing for costs coverage as they progress», Mucci explains.

The consequences of the collapse

Bioscience Institute CEO has no doubt: «If these umbilical blood samples will not be found, we will face a very serious loss because of the strong acquired value of this biological material: today we have got the evidences of the validity of new clinical applications not even imaginable in the past».

In fact, umbilical cord blood started to be cryopreserved only to have at disposition hematopoietic stem cells for the treatment of blood diseases. More recently, it was discovered that it contains also mesenchymal stem cells, which are characterized by a unique efficacy in human tissue regeneration; more than 900 clinical studies have been carrying on which demonstrate their clinical use safety, efficacy and transversality. Moreover, umbilical cord blood is rich in Natural Killer cells  (NK cells), white blood cells utilized in case of strong immunodepression and in cancer treatment. «NK cells are the army defending the organism from external assaults – Mucci explains – Viruses and cancer strongly reduce their efficacy, making room for other diseases».

Stocking up NK and mesenchymal stem cells by umbilical cord blood cryopreservation makes sense for all the family of the newborn, because they do not pose the problem of compatibility. «Given the fact that from umbilical cord blood we can obtain hematopoietic stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells and NK cells, and that NK and mesenchymal stem cells can be use not only by the baby but also by its family members, there is no doubt that this blood could be useful later in life».

Balestrieri G. Banca delle staminali sull’orlo del fallimento, le cellule vagano per l’Europa. Migliaia di genitori disperati: “Non sappiamo dove siano”. Business Insider Italia, 07/08/2019.
Svuotata una bio-banca elvetica, coinvolte 15mila famiglie italiane. TGCOM24, 18/09/2019. Italian

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