Medical science is forever evolving, with new concepts and approaches appearing almost daily. Genetic and blood research has, in a matter of decades, developed to the point where many future disorders can be predicted, although prevention cannot be guaranteed. Nonetheless, increasing numbers of Hong Kong parents are embracing scientific research contending that blood squeezed from their baby's discarded umbilical cord contains stem cells that may one day be used to prevent disease. Tens of thousands of dollars are being paid to companies to freeze the blood and store it for future emergencies. Parents may be making a wise investment - but they could also be wasting their money. Worse, the industry is so new here that the government has not put legislation in place to protect people using such services. Stem cells from umbilical cord blood are clearly of medical value. Numerous diseases have been treated over the past two decades by doctors transplanting cord cells into patients' blood. The biggest beneficiaries have been people whose bone marrow has been damaged by disease or chemotherapy; thousands around the world have been given the prospect of long lives after the cells were transfused into their veins and worked into marrow, to supply healthy blood. Researchers are also studying uses of cord-blood stem cells that may bypass the controversy of using stem cells harvested from human embryos. Cord stem cells take no potential life, the argument that last week led US President George W. Bush to ban federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research in his country. Cord cells, however, are not as versatile as embryonic cells, many scientists say. All the diseases treated with cord cells to date have been blood-related, so there are doubts whether they could be used to deal with veins, lungs, heart muscle and skin. Opponents of embryonic stem-cell research contend otherwise, saying that cord cells may one day provide a cure for everything from spinal cord injuries to heart disease. That hope is driving parents to Hong Kong firms advertising blood-cell storage services. But the lack of government regulation means there are no standards to ensure the cells are properly stored. Only when the cells are needed will that be determined - and a life is likely to be at risk at that moment. There is no suggestion that the companies are not doing what they advertise. The lack of licensing and monitoring, however, leaves the door open for a potential future laxness in the services provided and abuse from newcomers. The true worth of umbilical cord cells may be uncertain, but increasing numbers of people are banking on their potential. As with any bank, the government must ensure that their investment is protected. This will require transparency and providing some regulation.