Cord Blood: To Bank or Not to Bank?

Congratulations! You’re expecting a little one and while you’re hopeful and optimistic, your protective instincts are also kicking in. You’ve heard some talk about banking your baby’s umbilical cord blood. You’ve maybe even glanced at a brochure or two in the doctor’s office. But you’re still not it really right for you?

What is Cord Blood Anyway?

Cord blood is blood rich in potentially life-saving stem cells that are found within your baby’s umbilical cord. Don’t worry! You won’t be putting your little one in any pain if you choose to collect it. The collection process is quick, painless, and easy.

Once your baby is delivered (whether by C-section or vaginally), the doctor clamps the cord before cutting it (which can be done by you, your partner, or the doctors/nurses themselves). This part of the procedure is all standard.

But if you do choose to collect the blood, once it’s been cut the doctor will also insert a syringe into the part of the umbilical cord that is still attached to the placenta (not to the baby!) and will draw just a few ounces.

It’s then shipped off to the bank where it’s tested (for diseases like HIV and hepatitis) and if approved, it’s frozen for future medical use. You also have the possibility to collect cord tissue in addition to cord blood, which has different stem cells and may help combat additional diseases.

What are Stems Cells and Why Keep Them?

Stem cells are the building blocks of your body’s blood and immune system. The stem cells found in the umbilical cord are particularly immature which also means they’re robust and potent. They can develop into other types of cells just as your little baby developed various cells types such as blood, muscle, brain, and bone, etc. when they were developing in the womb.

Because of this unique ability, stem cells can be used to treat a number of life-threatening diseases – not just for your own child, but also for siblings, other family members, or even strangers in need. They’re basically an insurance policy against future diseases.

In some cases, it’s best to have your own stem cells banked rather than using a donor’s. There’s less chance of rejection should you need a transfusion, and you know it’s available the moment you need it. You won’t have to wait for a match or need to put friends and family members through painful bone marrow collections and testing.

Unfortunately though, it’s not all as simple as that. For certain diseases, a donor’s stem cells may be preferable to your own. A person’s own stems cells risk carrying the same genetic defect that’s making him ill, so that they’re ineffective as a source of treatment.

Which Diseases Can be Treated with Stem Cells?

Currently, there are more than 70 different diseases that can be treated with stem cells. They include leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, lymphoma, aplastic anemia, thalassemia, Krabbe disease, and Sanfilippo syndrome. Stem cells can also help patients recover from chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.

In addition, there are clinical trials to evaluate the viability of using stem cells to treat diseases like cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, autism, and diabetes. Many doctors and scientists have high hopes for stem cells as a cure (or treatment) for common and fearsome diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and stroke.

Stem cells have been used for over 20 years with amazing results and there are continually new findings to support their use in treating disease.

Where Should You Store Cord Blood Once It’s Been Collected?

If you do decide to collect your baby’s cord blood, there are two options available to you. You can either donate it to a public bank or store it in a private one.

In a public bank, cord blood is available to anyone who needs it. Your child may never have to face a life-threatening disease but their stem cells may help to save someone else. By donating to a public bank, the blood is there for anyone who is a match (including your baby or relatives). Besides some minimal collection fees, there are no costs associated with donating the blood to a public bank.

Alternatively, you can store your baby’s cord blood in a private bank to insure its availability for your own family’s use. No one can use the blood without your consent. There are costs associated with the collection, processing, and storage of your cord blood – roughly $2,000 for collection and processing with an annual storage fee that runs about $100 a year.

Why Does’t Everyone Use a Private Bank?

Firstly, there’s the cost. Just storing your blood for ten years is going to mean about $3,000. That’s a pretty significant amount – especially knowing your child may never need it. In fact, the odds that it will ever be used for your own child are pretty slim. While a peek in a private bank’s marketing materials estimates that about 1 in 27 will need their cord blood for medical purposes, more authoritative (and objective) sources like the American Academy of Pediatricians cite it as unlikely as 1 in 200,000.

For now, treatable diseases are pretty rare and a look at your family’s medical history will give you better insight as to whether a private bank makes sense for you. However, if scientific research does manage to make major inroads to treating common ailments like diabetes or heart disease, the likelihood that blood will come in handy increases dramatically.

Additionally, you should be aware that up until now, umbilical stem cells haven’t yet been used to successfully treat ailing adults. There is only a small amount of stems cells in those few ounces of blood you’re able to collect. It simply isn’t enough to have a significant impact on anyone over 90 pounds.

Many doctors also question the viability of cord blood after being frozen for 10 years. So unless your child is under 10 years of age, under 90 pounds, and has one of the few diseases that her own cord blood can treat, you may just be wasting your money.

Despite the emotional appeal that saving some super cells has for most parents, both the American Academy of Pediatricians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists support donations to public banks over the use of private ones – unless your family is currently facing diseases that are treatable with umbilical stem cells. Many medical organizations criticize the fear-mongering tactics private banks employ and some countries have even banned them. Still, that gnawing fear is hard to ignore, isn’t it?

Are you planning to collect your umbilical cord blood? Will you donate it or store it just in case?

Tags : pregnancy   baby   cord blood   

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