Choosing a bank (specifically a private bank) for her daughter's cord blood made perfect sense to Julie Lehrman, a mom based in Chicago. "We wanted the extra assurance that we were doing everything we could to keep Lexi healthy," Lehrman says. "I was older when Lexi was born, and there's a lot we didn't know about my mom's health history, so we felt that we were making a smart decision." Fortunately, Lexi was born healthy, and neither she nor anyone else in the family has needed the cord blood since it was stored seven years ago. But Lehrman has no regrets; she still feels the family made a wise investment. "Lexi or her brother or even one of us could still need that blood in the future, so I'm thankful that we have it." But banking your child's cord blood may not be the right decision for you. Read on to see if you should opt for private cord blood banking.
Umbilical cord blood can save lives. Cord blood is rich in stem cells that can morph into all sorts of blood cells, which can be used to treat diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and certain cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. There are a few ways for transplant patients to get blood cells (umbilical and placenta, bone marrow, peripheral/circulation), but cord blood is easier to match with patients, and because it is gathered during birth from the umbilical cord, it's a painless procedure.
Therapies with cord blood have gotten more successful. "The outcomes of cord blood transplants have improved over the past 10 years because researchers and clinicians have learned more about dosing cord blood, picking better matches, and giving the patient better supportive care as they go through the transplant," says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
Cord blood holds promise for future medical procedures. Scientists are still studying more ways to treat more diseases with cord blood. At Duke University, for example, researchers are using patients' own cord blood in trials for cerebral palsy and Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (a condition in which the brain does not receive enough oxygen). Trials are also under way for the treatment of autism at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute in Sacramento, California.
Your own cord blood will always be accessible. This applies only if you pay to store your cord blood at a private bank. The blood is reserved for your own family; nobody else can access or use it, and it will never be allotted to another family or be donated to research. If you donate your cord blood to a public bank, on the other hand, anyone who needs compatible cord blood can have it; there's no guarantee that it will be available if and when your family needs it.
Cord blood banking is not always cheap. It's completely free to donate blood to a public cord blood bank, but private banks charge $1,400 to $2,300 for collecting, testing, and registering, plus an annual $95 to $125 storing fee.
Your child may never need it. Stem cell-rich cord blood can be used to treat a range of diseases, but Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, estimates that there's only a 1 in 217 chance that your child will ever need a stem cell transplant with cord blood (or bone marrow). This is particularly true if the child doesn't have a family history of diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, or sickle cell anemia. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states cord blood has been used to treat certain diseases successfully, there isn't strong evidence to support cord blood banking. If a family does choose to bank cord blood, the AAP recommends public cord blood banking (instead of private) to cut down on expenditures.
Cord blood can't be used to treat everything. If your child is born with a genetic condition such as muscular dystrophy or spina bifida, then the stem cells would have that condition, says Dr. Kurtzberg. But if the cord blood donor is healthy and there is a sibling or another immediate family member who has a genetic condition, the cord blood could be a good match for them.
Most stored cord blood is discarded. At public cord blood banks, a unit of stored cord blood has a greater chance of being used to help a sick child or used toward stem cell research. Private cord blood banks, on the other hand, eventually throw away blood that a family no longer wants to store or use.
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