Should You Bank Your Baby's Cord Blood?

What Cord Blood May Do -- and What It Can't

Thankfully, Brandyn's story had a very happy ending. And for many parents or parents-to-be, hearing that cord blood cells are extremely promising for treating some devastating diseases is welcome news. But what's crucial to keep in mind is that all of the diseases for which cord blood transplantation might be used are extremely rare in the vast majority of families. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that there are no accurate estimates of the likelihood of children needing their own stored cells; the available estimates range from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000. One expert puts the odds that you'll ever use the stored cells at 1 in 20,000.

That said, if you or any of your relatives have or have had one of these diseases, cord blood banking may well be something to consider seriously, if you can afford it. Private cord blood banking makes the most sense in families with children who have diseases that might be corrected with transplantation, says Joanne Kurtzberg, MD, director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University. "That's a small minority of cases. An example would be another child in the family with leukemia, sickle-cell anemia, or an immune deficiency. In a family where everyone's healthy, there's no evidence that it will be useful."

One other limitation to keep in mind: It's possible that there might not be enough cells for a transplant. Dr. Green calls this a big issue for adults, as more cells are needed for a successful transplantation in an adult or an older teen, since they weigh more.

It's also not clear how long cord blood cells are viable when stored. "The only data we have is for 15 years," says Zbigniew M. Szczepiorkowski, MD, chairman of the cellular therapy standards committee of the American Association of Blood Banks. "But the way we store cord blood now may be better than it was 10 years ago."

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