WSJ: Inside the Private Umbilical Cord Blood Banking Business


Last weekend the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article with the provocative title:

Inside the Private Umbilical Cord Blood Banking Business
Wall Street Journal Analysis Found Dirty Storage, Leaky Blood Samples and Firms Going Under

The sub-title alone is a dead give away that this article is an "expose" of bad practices, and WSJ is claiming credit for finding them.

Are these stories true, are they a fair portrayal of private cord blood banks, and how did this article come about?

If you are in a hurry, the punchlines are: the specifics are true, the portrayal is not fair, and this article was written by reporters who wanted to make a big splash with a negative story and purposely ignored any facts that did not support their case.

I spent many hours providing background for this report, none of which was used. In fact, the reporters quote incorrect data in several places instead of the correct data that I gave them. I have spoken to others who were interviewed for this story, which ostensibly was about the growth of the private banking industry, and now all of us find that we were played for anything that had a negative spin.

Is the moral of this story not to talk to reporters? No. When you work in public outreach, you cannot avoid talking to reporters. It is important to stay "on message" and not make aside comments that could be misinterpreted. Considering that I am from Brooklyn, NY, and tend to be very sarcastic, I count myself lucky that I did not get quoted uttering some blooper!

So is it true that private cord blood banks are not required to follow standards as high as public cord blood banks? Absolutely, yes, that is true. Private banks only get subjected to surprise FDA inspections, whereas the FDA requires public banks to obtain a "BLA License" that is comparable to their requirements for manufacturing pharmaceuticals.

The US public cord blood banks have complained bitterly in open meetings of the federal HHS agency that their FDA standard is too high. Since it became effective on 20 Oct. 2011, only 4 of the nation's 20 active public banks have achieved the BLA License. So think about that, the majority of our nation's cord blood transplants are coming from public cord blood storage that does not meet an FDA requirement that was drafted in 2006 and became effective 2.5 years ago. The WSJ did not mention that, did they?

The WSJ article featured some horrifying stories about cord blood banks that shut down, either because they were closed by the FDA or because they went out of business. I have been telling parents for over a decade to stick with established cord blood laboratories that have been accredited by a quality agency like AABB, FACT, or ISO.

There was a tragic story of a family who could not use their child's cord blood for therapy because the bag was mis-labeled. Something that would never happen in a public bank, right? Wrong. There have been published cases of cord blood that was released from a public bank for a transplant and turned out to be the wrong unit.

The key to take away here is that quality control is vitally important when you are banking blood products for therapy.  Forget about the sniping between public versus private banks and focus on that bottom line. All banks must strive for the highest possible quality control, and seek accreditation by agencies that monitor quality standards.

Some banks are better than the others, be they public or private or hybrid. Our Foundation, the Parent's Guide to Cord Blood, is devoted to helping parents make informed choices. So by all means, parents should look before they leap -- whether they are leaping to donate their cord blood or leaping to pay for private storage. But parents should not be scared away from cord blood banking by "yellow journalism".

-- Frances Verter, PhD
Founder & Director
Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation

Previous articles :

15-Sep-2015 -    Interview with Matt Farrow
25-Jan-2015 -    AABB Partnership
18-Jun-2014 - New Cord Blood Trials at Duke
03-Jun-2014 - Parent's Guide partners with FACT-NetCord
28-May-2014 - Sir Richard Branson's cord blood bank saves boy
19-Feb-2014 - Cost of Cord Blood Therapy for Cerebral Palsy
06-Jan-2014 - Jennifer Jones Austin puts focus on cord blood
10-Dec-2013 - - Weighing Cord Blood Donation Against Private Banks
01-Dec-2013 - Medical Device for Cord Blood Collection
14-Jan-2013 - Dr. Jennifer Arnold endorsement
24-Dec-2012 - Cord Blood for Cerebral Palsy: 1st publication of controlled trial
09-Oct-2012 - After iPS Nobel Prize, who needs cord blood?
17-May-2011 - Meet our Advisory Panel
14-Jul-1998 - Shai's Story