British entrepreneur Richard Branson is to add a stem cell storage company to his sprawling Virgin empire, a brand that already covers everything from cola and lingerie to airlines and space tourism.
Parents will be able to store cells from the blood in their baby's umbilical cord in the hope they could one day be used to treat certain blood diseases.
Commercial stem cell banks say stem cells offer an insurance policy if a child falls ill with a disease that may be treatable in the future.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists welcomed Virgin's co-operation with public banks, but said there were no guarantees of breakthroughs.
"Regenerative medicine holds great promise for future management of many diseases and cord blood stem cells might fulfill that promise if they can be expanded and grown successfully in large numbers," said Professor Peter Braude, chairman of the group's scientific advisory committee.
"So far, this has not been the case, but it may change in the future. This proposal provides a long-term insurance lottery that may or may not prove to be successful."
The Leukemia Research charity said cord blood transplants offered the best chance of survival to about 40 children each year in Britain.
Private firm Cells4Life welcomed Virgin's announcement.
"It will raise the profile of stem cell storage," said chairman Wayne Channon. "As the volumes go up, we will absolutely bring down our prices."
He added that the cells may also be used to treat adult heart disease, burns or sporting injuries within one to three years.
Some scientists think stem cells -- master cells in the body that can grow into any cell type or tissue -- could one day be used to treat illnesses such as Alzheimer's and heart disease.
via Yahoo News