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Smart Cells Responds to ASA’s Ruling on Cells4Life’s Breach of Consumer Trust

Choosing to collect your baby’s umbilical cord blood and store it for potential use in the future is a big decision for new parents. The precious stem cells contained in the small sample collected at birth could potentially be used for life changing treatments for them or their siblings in later life in conditions such as cerebral palsy, leukaemia and anaemia.


As such, it is crucial for those making the decision to store their baby’s cord blood to know that they are choosing the best option for their child; they are entrusting these critical cells to a company to store them safely for the event that they may be needed in the future. It is important to trust the company you choose to collect and bank your child’s stem cells with, and to know that they are not overselling the service they are providing or making claims which are unsubstantiated.


A recent investigation by the ASA into comparative claims and promotions made by one such cord blood bank has caused them to admit errors in their advertising.

What were the claims and statements that Cells4Life made?

They achieve “3x more cells” and “more stem cells”

The ASA has stated that reading the above statement, consumers would understand that choosing to bank with Cells4Life would result in a yield of three times more viable cells being made available to them for future treatments in comparison with all other cord blood banks in the UK.


The claim was based around the company using an in-house developed processing technology, TotiCyte, which has not been tested by an independent authority, nor have any of the cells yielded with this technology been used in clinical applications yet.


As these results would be a breakthrough in this industry, particularly due to the comparative nature of them, it is of utmost importance that they are verified by a third party as well as having proven results in order to be used as part of promotional material. The dataset is confidential, has not been made public, and does not appear to be peer-reviewed; it also is unclear whether the data used includes all processing systems used by UK cord blood banks.


This claim was, according to the ASA, both unsubstantiated and misleading.


They are the only cord blood bank who can process delayed cord clamping samples

The statement made on the company’s page “TotiCyte Technology” claimed that “TotiCyte means that for the first time, cord blood banking is compatible with delayed and optimal cord clamping” and called to consumers: “don’t compromise”.


The ASA stated that consumers were likely to understand this statement to mean that Cells4Life is the only cord blood banking company in the UK to be able to process samples resulting from delayed and optimal cord clamping at birth.


Not only was there no evidence to show that they were the only company in the UK to have processed samples in this way, but it is also an incorrect claim: at Smart Cells, we have successfully collected and processed samples after delayed cord clamping.


According to the ASA, they also found this claim to be both unsubstantiated and misleading.


The average of 22ml of cord blood recovered after optimal cord clamping is insufficient for machines used by their competitors

Cells4Life’s claims that research showed that after optimal cord clamping, an average of 22ml of cord blood remained for processing, but this was lower than the minimum volume required by the machines used by their competitors. They also made a claim that competitors using alternative processing methods to their own would reject samples as unsuitable for processing if there was an insufficient amount of blood collected.


This is incorrect as, not only do we have a minimum volume criteria of 15ml at Smart Cells, and many successful samples processed close to this level previously, but the Sepax machines that we use do not have a minimum volume criteria; in theory, Smart Cells could process a much smaller sample but have set a minimum volume in order to ensure that sufficient stem cells are left for clinical use.


Immediate cord clamping was “under 60 seconds” while delayed clamping is “more than 30”

In addition to providing misleading information to consumers that compared Cells4Life’s technology and yield of stem cells to other UK stem cells banks, Cells4Life also gave information that was “contradictory” in regard to immediate cord clamping as opposed to delayed clamping. The company admitted to the BBC’s Inside Out that this was “an error”.

What are the guidelines on delayed cord clamping?

Delayed cord clamping is recommended by many healthcare providers due to the beneficial nature of allowing stem cell rich blood to flow from the placenta to the baby after birth. These benefits include improved cardio-vascular stability, an increase in iron transferred to the baby and stored in the body in the months after birth, and improved developmental outcomes in the first few months.


The time specified for delayed cord clamping is a matter debated upon by healthcare professionals, however NICE recommends not clamping the umbilical cord before one minute after birth, and the World Health Organisation states that delayed cord clamping between 1 and 3 minutes is recommended for all births.


It is possible to delay cord clamping for 1 to 3 minutes and to collect sufficient blood needed for processing to yield stem cells for clinical use. The size of the placenta and umbilical cord varies hugely from child to child and, as such, so does the amount of blood remaining to collect after delayed cord clamping. Nevertheless, generally there is still plenty remaining to fulfil the minimum of 15ml that Smart Cells looks for to produce a successful yield for collection and storage, and often more.

What is the result of this investigation for consumers?

While the admission of errors in their claims and promotions does not affect the way that Cells4Life handles their customers’ samples, it does affect the trust that consumers and potential customers have. When working in such a delicate sector of the medical industry, it is important not to mislead consumers with unsubstantiated claims and comparisons to competitors at the risk of causing customers to lose trust in the process entirely.


It is important for us at Smart Cells that our customers trust us as a company and our process, and as such, we highly value transparency in the process and giving consumers information which has been researched and proven. In addition to the information given here, we are more than happy to discuss any concerns this investigation has caused for consumers about Smart Cells’ process and technology.

About Smart Cells


Incorporated in July 2000, Smart Cells was the first cord blood stem cell storage company in the UK. Smart Cells were also the first UK private company to have successfully released stored cord blood units to transplant centres worldwide, to treat children with a range of illnesses. Smart Cells uses internationally recognised and proven technologies to ensure a high quality world class service.

Smart Cells have released more stem cells units for transplant use than any other private cord blood bank in the UK. Find out more about their transplants here

Smart Cells have a team of phlebotomists (blood collection specialists) operating on a 24/7 basis. This service has dedicated staff, emergency telephone numbers and call out personnel which save new parents the inconvenience of having to find, book and manage this service for themselves. They also have partner labs in Spain and South Africa as well as a disaster recovery unit with a PLC in the rare event of the company going bankrupt.

The UK lab is situated 3 miles from Heathrow Airport so that all international samples arrive as quickly as possible. Smart Cells have collected samples from over 70 countries and have offices in Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia and the Far East.

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Last Updated: 12-Dec-2019