June 22, 2008

Should You Bank Your Baby's Blood?

By Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld
Published: June 22, 2008

With all the excitement at the birth of a healthy baby, most parents don’t give the umbilical cord a second thought after it’s been cut. But the blood in the umbilical cord, called “cord blood,” is a rich source of stem cells that could be used in many ways—maybe someday to save your life or your child’s. Today, the cells are used to treat people who have leukemia or other blood disorders and to help rebuild the immune system after cancer treatment. In the future, scientists hope that the cells may help fight a host of illnesses including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, stroke, and Parkinson’s. If you wish to save your child’s cord blood, you can put it in a private or public bank. Here are some of the pros and cons of each:
• Private blood banking is suggested for families with a history of illnesses like leukemia. You control use of the blood and can receive it instantly if needed. However, stored blood can’t be used to treat genetic diseases in the child from whom it was collected, because the stem cells possess the same pre-existing genetic condition. You also should know that the chances that someone in your family will need the blood are very small, and it can cost more than $2000 to collect and store the cells.
• Public blood banking is usually free. When you donate your child’s blood, his or her name is added to a national registry. He or she is then guaranteed to receive cord blood if needed, but usually from another donor. Not all hospitals collect cord blood for public use, but if yours does, the chances that it will help save lives are much greater than when it’s stored in a private bank.

1 comment:

MindBody&Baby said...


Thanks for posting this article. I think it mentions many important reasons to bank. While the general message of the article is correct, some of the details are out of date or incorrect.

As you may know, I am a member of a group called PEN (Parents Educator Network), which is a cord blood advocacy group who's goal is to educate parents about the benefits of cord blood preservation. The technology surrounding cord blood is growing so quickly, that unfortunately information that is provided by the media and even doctors is often out of date, incomplete, or just plain incorrect.

For example, the article states that if you donate your baby's cord blood, that child is "...guaranteed to receive cord blood if needed, but usually from another donor." This is not true. There is no guarantee. How could there be? On any given day more than 6,000 patients (who did not privately bank their cord blood) search the NMDP registry looking for a donor match. Despite the registry of millions, there is still not a match for everyone. Because of the need to find a good match, the demand outweighs the supply and with the huge amount of current research and recent medical advances the demand will only increase. If you donate your baby’s cord blood, there is no public registry that your child's NAME is added to. The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) mentioned above anonymously lists donated cord blood as well as bone marrow donors. This list aids in the search by patients in need for a transplant.

So, if you donate your baby’s cord blood, you are potentially helping someone in need. However, keep in mind that it is extremely unlikely that your baby’s cord blood will be available for your child or anyone else in your family, should they ever need it. Additionally, there is no ‘free pass to the front of the line’ if you did donate and need treatment in the future. Everyone, whether they previously donated or not, is given equal rights. It should also be noted that approximately 50% of the donated cord blood units are not usable. The most common reason a unit cannot be stored is because it doesn’t contain enough blood-forming cells.

For up-to-date and accurate information about donating cord blood visit the NMDP website at www.marrow.org under “donate cord blood.”

The information in the article about Private Banking is also outdated and therefore misleading. Private banking is no longer just suggested for families with a history of illnesses like leukemia. Private banking is a personal decision and one that should be considered by ALL families. As the article stated, your family has access to the privately banked cord blood for immediate use, despite donor shortages, if needed. Additionally, I want to point out that your baby’s cord blood is not only a 100% match for themselves, but is also potentially a match for siblings, parents and possibly other family members. Studies have shown that treatments using cord blood from a family member are twice as successful as from a non-related donor, such as cord blood received from a public bank.

The article states “…stored blood can’t be used to treat genetic diseases in the child from whom it was collected, because the stem cells possess the same pre-existing genetic condition.” For this issue, I reached out to the company that I used to bank my baby’s cord blood (ViaCord) and asked them. They provided information on autologous transplants (when you use your own cord blood) and there is a lot of research going on right now for Cerebral Palsy and juvenile diabetes where a child can and MUST use their own cord blood instead of a donated unit. It’s not true that a child cannot use their own cord blood – autologous treatments have been performed and have been successful. I also learned that the first autologous transplant (using the patient’s own cord blood) for Leukemia was reported in Pediatrics (medical journal) in January 2008. The child is doing well and in complete remission 20 months after the cord blood transfusion.

It is important for parents to also consider that every year more and more diseases and illnesses are being added to the list that can be treated using cord blood. Not all of them are genetic diseases. Medical researchers are exploring new uses for cord blood stem cells, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Plus many believe we may one day use cord blood to help treat brain damage, spinal cord injuries, nerve and tissue regeneration Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. It is very powerful to say that you can bank a newborn’s cord blood at birth and potentially help them with heart disease or a spinal cord injury much later in life – wow!

So you see, private banking is not just for families with a history of Leukemia. Technology is rapidly changing and this only increases the value of privately storing your baby’s cord blood.

As for the chances to save lives… assuming that the cord blood is collected and stored appropriately, the chance that it could save a life whether banked publicly or privately, should be the same.

Personally, I think it is wonderful that parents have options, either to donate to a public bank in the interest of the public good or store their own baby’s cord blood in a private family bank. For our family, we felt like the possibility of saving our child’s life in the future was worth the investment, so we privately banked. For others the best decision is to donate. Either way, it is important that we have the choice and consider all option to make the best decision for our own families.

For more information about cord blood visit my website at www.MindBodyBabyStL.com and click on “Cord Blood Overview”.

Sorry about the long winded response. I'm passionate about what I do. Can you tell? :-P

Jane Baker
Mind, Body & Baby