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Ethical and legal issues raised by cord blood banking — the challenges of the new bioeconomy

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While human tissue has always had cultural, educational and scientific value, it is only in the past 40 years that tissue economies have begun to emerge.1 These economies have been driven by advances in technology that rapidly reversed our perception of human tissue as a useless by-product of treatment, to being a valuable and powerful source of wealth. Umbilical cord blood banking is an excellent example of this trend — what once was waste is now considered to be a wonder product that is collected, stored and traded in private and public markets.2 As a consequence, cord blood stem cells have become a focus of public, medical and scientific contest because of their uncertain ontological status (whether they are simply adult stem cells or share properties of both embryonic and adult stem cells), and because they have proven value as a source of haematopoietic stem cells for transplantation and more speculative value as a source of autologous stem cells for regenerative medicine.

Therapy and research: proof and potential

The benefits of cord blood stem cells in haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) are…