Umbilical cord blood saved and stored at birth represents a potential new source for these stem cells. Ever since the first successful transplant using cord blood cells was performed 15 years ago, more and more parents have had to face the decision of whether or not they want to "bank" their newborn baby's cord blood. If your baby or another family member (most likely a sibling) should ever need a stem cell transplant, there is a chance that these cells could be used -- eliminating the need to search for an unrelated donor through the national registry of potential donors. Cord blood stem cells may have other uses, too, yet to be discovered by researchers.
On the other hand, the likelihood of your family ever needing the cells is quite low, says Dr. Szczepiorkowski. "There are a number of cases in which they've been used, but not many," he says. "Current estimates on the likelihood of needing the cells from the donor range from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 30,000. More research is needed before we can say for sure what the odds are." Dr. Szczepiorkowski notes that he did store his own son's cord blood and plans to do so for his next child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics officially recommends that parents bank their newborn baby's cord blood only if they have family members with a disease that may require a stem cell transplant, or a strong family history of such diseases.
Nevertheless, some parents still choose to go ahead with banking, reasoning that any chance of needing the cells, no matter how small, warrants taking this precautionary step.
"This is being advertised as a form of health insurance and I think that is a good way to look at it," Dr. Szczepiorkowski adds. "Most of us pay money for health insurance coverage but hope that it is something we'll never have to use for anything besides routine care."