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.