Your baby’s cord blood contains stem cells that have the potential to treat or cure life-threatening illnesses. So far, more than 8,000 patients in the US have been treated with umbilical cord blood.
These stem cells are currently being used to treat more than 80 diseases, including genetic disorders, immune deficiencies, and blood and immune system cancers. Research is also promising in using cord blood stem cells to treat type 1 diabetes and cerebral palsy.
Your baby’s cord blood stem cells are genetically unique to your family. They have a 75 percent chance of being an exact match to a sibling and are a 100 percent exact match for your baby. There are both private and public cord blood banks (to which you can donate your baby’s cord blood cells), yet experts estimate that the chance of finding a match within the public system is only about 33 percent.
Cord blood stem cells don’t need to match the recipient as perfectly as other stem cells, like bone marrow. This increases the odds that a family member can receive a stem cell transplant from a relative. And unlike embryonic stem cells, using these stem cells is non-controversial because they’re otherwise discarded with the cord.
As a parent, you have three options for your baby’s cord blood at her birth: discard it, donate it to a public bank, or privately bank it. Your facility will typically discard the cord with the blood unless you state your wishes. If you want the cord blood saved, the collection procedure is the same, there’s no risk to you or your baby, and it’s painless.
During the past 12-18 months, there has been a dramatic shift in the use of privately banked cord blood, typically for regenerative therapies to treat damaged tissues within neurological or endocrine systems. Other potential uses under research include heart disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, autism, and gene therapy.
The costs of private banking, which can cost around $2,000 for the initial collection and $100 or more for annual storage, is a deterrent for some families. Yet, this is a rapidly changing science. Talk to your healthcare provider to get your family’s total risk picture to help answer whether you should consider banking or donating your baby’s cord blood.
|Donation to a public bank||Private banking for your family|
|There is no cost, but you lose ownership of the cord blood as well as access to use it||You retain ownership and control, but there are costs, for which companies offer various payment plans|
|You must meet the donation criteria, which excludes moms having multiples, who are hepatitis B or HIV-positive, younger than 18, or who have had piercings or tattoos in the last 12 months; other exclusions may apply||There are no donation criteria; you may be advised to skip banking, however, if you’re HIV-positive|
|You must register for donation at least 6 weeks in advance of your baby’s birth||You can wait until shortly before delivery to decide and have a banking kit sent overnight|
|You will help fill a public need: 7 out of 10 patients receiving stem cell therapies right now depend on donated cord blood stem cells for a match||You may be able to help your immediate and extended family should the need arise|
Not all private banking companies are the same. Ask the following when comparing companies: