Should We Bank Our Baby’s Cord Blood?

Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta once a baby is born and the cord is clamped. Your baby’s cord blood is a rich source for stem cells, the most primitive human cells. Current research involves developing these cells so that they might be used to treat a variety of diseases. Cord blood can be banked privately for a fee or publicly just like other blood products. Cord blood can also be banked in anticipation of a specific use by a sibling with a known medical condition.

A  heavily marketed service for expectant parents is family or private umbilical cord blood banking.  Cord blood collection is performed immediately after birth using special equipment obtained from any number of different companies which provide special processing and storage of the stem cells in a private blood bank. When cord blood is stored privately for the exclusive use of the family, there is an initial collection fee and an annual storage fee.

Family cord blood banking has been described as an expensive insurance policy that currently has limited use.  For some families purchasing that insurance might make sense.  Here are some important facts:

  • Estimates are that the chances are about 1/2700 that a unit of cord blood will be used for an individual child or family member.
  • The first successful transplant of cord blood stem cells was in 1988 and it is estimated that estimated that more than 7,000 transplants have been performed in children and adults for the correction of inborn errors of metabolism, hematopoietic malignancies, and genetic disorders of the blood and immune system.
  • Stem cells obtained from banked umbilical cord blood cannot currently be used to treat inborn errors of metabolism or other genetic diseases in the same individual from whom they were collected because the genetic mutation would already be present in the stem cells. Autologous umbilical cord blood is also not used as a source of stem cells to treat childhood leukemia because chromosomal translocations in fetal blood have been detected in some children who ultimately develop leukemia.
  • There is a charge for your doctor to collect stem cells from you baby’s cord which may not be covered by your insurance, and doctors also get paid by stem cell collection companies for doing the collection.
  • The first public bank was established at the New York Blood Center in 1991 and other public banks have since been established in various regions of the country. In 1999, the National Bone Marrow Donor Program established a network of these banks listing their units on the National Bone Marrow Donor Program Registry and established the Center for Cord Blood in 2005. Visit their website for more information on cord blood banking.

 

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