Accepted Paper:

Banking on blood: the science, market and traditional methods of umbilical cord blood storage in South India  


Amishi Panwar (The Graduate Institute, Geneva)

Paper short abstract:

This paper details umbilical cord blood banking in Chennai, South India & examines the science & marketing of public and private cord blood banks with a focus on traditional methods of cord blood storage, thereby asking what happens when global science & technology collide with local cultures ?

Paper long abstract:

In India, umbilical cord blood stem cells are used to treat Thalassemia, Leukemias and related blood disorders, whereas stem cell treatment for all other disorders is classified under research and requires registration of a clinical trial with the governing body in India. Given this scenario, the promissory nature of these cells, vigorous marketing strategies and traditional methods of cord blood storage has led to multiple interpretations of the science and use of (banked) blood stem cells.

This paper draws on 15 months of ethnographic immersion and conversations with haematologists, gynaecologists, lab technicians and people opting for banking in Chennai, South India. Public banking, characterized by anonymous donation and stem cell transplantation, is a curious but preferred form of insurance given the knowledge that there is a 0.04% chance of using one's own cord blood in the future. A hybrid of the public-private model called "community banking" is where a group of people becomes a private pool of users, who pay for, and bank their children's cord blood. And pregnant mothers are encouraged to store dried cord tissue/blood in silver amulets, which is believed to protect the child from harm and disease. The ever morphing nature of the cord blood market in response to the developing science and commerce of stem cells leads us to ask what exactly does banking on cord blood entail? And how do we understand a future where global science & technology collide with local cultures?

Panel C12
Colliding theories, cultures, and futures. STS view(s) beyond the horizon. Or: STS diaspora