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Australian scientists claim a world first by growing a human prostrate gland in mice using embryonic stem cells, shown here on a computer screen February 24, 2006. - 


SCOTT JAGOW: British entrepreneur Richard Branson will reportedly launch yet another venture next week. He's been in the airline business, the train business, the music business, ballooning. Now, the Times of London says Branson wants to start a stem cell storage company. That's hard to say. Our European correspondent Stephen Beard joins us from London. Stephen, what's Sir Richard up to now?

STEPHEN BEARD: Well this apparently offers parents the chance to put a sample of the umbilical blood of their newborn children into cold storage. Apparently this is the richest and best source of stem cells, which are capable of growing into tissue, bone and whole organs. The idea behind this is that parents would store their children's umbilical blood as an insurance against their children later in life developing heart disease, spinal cord problems, Parkinson's and so on.

JAGOW: So how might something like this be received in the U.K.?

BEARD: In the U.K. it might get reasonable reception. Perhaps not so much in continental Europe. In fact, private storage of stem cells is actually illegal in France and Italy. Typically the service costs something like $3,000 to collect the blood and $200 a year for cold storage. This is controversial because these treatments haven't materialized yet and there is a concern that this could degenerate into something of a scam.

JAGOW: Any idea why Branson might want to do this?

BEARD: Well he's very interested in technologies of the future. He's already launched Virgin Galactic, which is planning to take tourists into space and he's planning to invest all the profits of his airline into the development of environmentally-friendly biofuels.

JAGOW: Alright Stephen, thanks a lot

BEARD: OK Scott.

JAGOW: Stephen beard in London.