If you are pregnant or have recently had a baby, you are likely at least a little familiar with the idea of banking or preserving your new baby's umbilical cord blood.
This umbilical cord blood is saved when a baby is born, cryogenically stored, and then available if your child later becomes sick and needs a bone marrow transplant. This type of transplant would be 'autologous' and is different than the more common 'allogenic' transplants that might be done from a sibling or other relative or an unrelated donor.
The ads from the companies that provide this service, such as ViaCord and Cord Blood Registry, are very persuasive. Who wouldn't want to do something that might save their baby's life?
And many of the articles on other parenting and pregnancy sites seem to provide unbiased articles on cord blood banking, but the ads from Cord Blood Registry and ViaCord on the same pages make these articles seem less credible. The article on one site is actually provided by ViaCord, which would seem to make the whole page an advertisement, althought that isn't mentioned anywhere.
So how do you make a decision about cord blood banking?
If you begin to investigate cord blood banking, the first road block that you will likely come upon is the price.
The price at ViaCord begins at $1500 for collection of the cord blood and then $95/year for storage. Since the blood is saved for up to 21 years, the total cost would be about $3500, unless you prepay for storage, which can save you up to $500.
The Cord Blood Registry has similar pricing, with a $1290 enrollment and processing fee and then a $95/year storage fee, although you can save some money here too if you prepay for storage.
Although these prices will put cord blood banking out of reach of many families, you will likely have some feeling guilty that they can't afford to take this opportunity to possibly 'save' their babies life.
Should they feel guilty?
Should you bank your baby's cord blood?
The answer to the first one is a definite no. The American Academy of Pediatrics goes as far as saying that 'it is difficult to recommend that parents store their children's cord blood for future use.'
The second question is something that you will have to decide for yourself.
The answer is easier if you have a child or family member that already has a condition that can be treated with a stem cell transplant, such as sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, aplastic anemia, leukemia, metabolic storage disorders and certain genetic immunodeficiencies. In this case, you should definitely try to bank your child's umbilical cord blood.
There is actually a program called the Sibling Donor Cord Blood Program at Children's Hospital of Oakland where you can bank your child's umbilical cord blood for free if you meet their eligibility requirements. which includes having a child with a transplantable condition, having a child with a prenatal diagnosis of a transplantable condition, or if your unborn child is at high risk for a having a transplantable condition.
While the claims are true that a bone marrow transplant using your own child's cord blood stem cells could save his life, the actual chances that you would have to use his stem cells is very small, and only about 1 in 2,700.
1 in 2,700 means that for every 2700 umbilical cord stem cells saved, only 1 would be used. That number is misleading though. Some, if not many, of those children might be treated with other therapies if stem cells weren't available.
For example, while an autologous stem cell transplant could be used as a treatment for leukemia, it has been shown to be no more effective than chemotherapy.
For other disorders, an allogenic transplant from a sibling or an unrelated donor might also be available for use.
Or you might even be able to find a stem cell match from a umilical cord blood bank that stores donated stem cells from unrelated donors from the National Marrow Donor Program Cord Blood Banks.
So it is not like there is a 100% chance that your child will not have a life saving treatment available if stem cells hadn't been saved.
Still, having your child's cord blood available does have benefits, including that:
- the cord blood is easily available if you ever do need it
- these stem cells will be a perfect match for your child, while there is only a 25% chance that a sibling will be a match
Umbilical cord blood banking does raise a lot of ethical questions. If cord blood banking is a good idea, is it fair that only people who can afford it will be able to have a chance at a life saving therapy for their children?
This question will be less of an issue if there is an expansion of the unrelated cord blood banks. With this type of cord blood bank, it is possible to donate your child's cord blood for free if you live near one of the National Marrow Donor Program Cord Blood Banks in 14 states in the United States, including Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.. These stem cells could then be used by unrelated children who need a transplant and search their registry. Since there is no cost or risk to you to do this, if you decide not to bank your child's stem cells for your own use, you might consider donating them.
Don't forget to take our poll:
Are you going to bank your baby's umbilical cord blood?