Saving your baby's umbilical cord blood can be a life-saving decision, but it can also be an expensive one, and even unnecessary. Research into the benefits of cord blood banking is ongoing. "It's important for parents to realize that this isn't a definitive discussion, it's ongoing," says Dr. Zbigniew Szczepiorkowski, MD, PhD, codirector of the Blood Bank and Transfusion Service, and director of the Cellular Therapy Center, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire. "There is the medical argument that says you probably won't need the cells, but then there is the emotional argument, too, which says, 'If something does happen, I will want to have done what is best for my child.'"
Some parents are banking their baby's cord blood because the cells have the potential to treat certain diseases of the blood and immune system.
Throughout pregnancy, the umbilical cord acts as the baby's lifeline, connecting him to the placenta that serves as a source of oxygen and nutrition. After the mother delivers her baby, she also delivers this temporary tissue. In the past it was routinely discarded, but this is starting to change. We now know that umbilical cord blood is a rich source of stem cells, the "progenitor" cells that develop into the major components of the blood, including platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells. Stem cells from cord blood also may have the potential to give rise to other cell types in the body.
Stem cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants, are often an essential part of treatment for serious illnesses involving the blood and immune system, such as leukemia, lymphoma, certain forms of anemia, and immune deficiency syndrome. Healthy stem cells from the blood or bone marrow of a genetically compatible donor are used to "regenerate" the blood and immune system in the person who is ill. A sibling has the best chance of matching, but in most cases an unrelated donor has to be found.