As a pediatrician I am often asked by soon to be parents about cord blood banks and whether they should save their newborn’s cord blood. It’s an important question with a complex answer and so I want to offer up some information and clarification as there are many misbeliefs about storing and using cord blood to save your child’s life.
Soon after birth, blood from baby’s umbilical cord can be collected. The umbilical stem cells have become therapy and treatment for many conditions like blood disorders, severe immune deficiencies and metabolic abnormalities. They can also be used to treat side effects from radiation and chemotherapy, which kill not just cancerous cells but also the good stem cells found in the bone marrow. These new normal donor stem cells can be given to replace the defective cells and produce healthy new blood cells that boost immunity, and can rid a child of a life threatening disease. It’s pretty amazing!
However what parents need to know is that right now cord blood is not a cure for all diseases, especially not leukemia. There’s definitely a mistaken belief by many that if one stores an infant’s stem cells that they can be used later if that same child develops leukemia. Unfortunately, the initial cord blood stem cells are already “infected” and treatment of that same child have resulted in reappearance of the leukemia. Stored cord blood can often be used to help certain diseases in a sibling but not the initial donor. In addition, because of the small amount of stem cells harvested from cord blood its use is limited, there’s usually only enough for treatment to use on a child and not a full size adult.
Storing cord blood in a private cord blood bank is very expensive- with a yearly maintenance fee to store the blood and so it’s important to weigh the risks of the expense vs the true probability or likelihood that a family member will benefit from the cord blood. (for example, if there is a known disorder that a family member has that can be treated with cord blood cells) Most parents get their information from private cord banks which often pray on parents fears in order to get them to use their private banking services. In addition, private cord blanks are all very different in terms of quality as they are not subject to strict quality control and oversight which plays a factor when and if the stem cells are ever needed.
So, what do I suggest? I agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Get the facts, speak with your pediatrician as well as your obstetrician to see if private banking makes sense for your family. However, I advocate for public cord banking which is free and the chances that an infant’s cord blood cells would be used for transplant is a whopping 30 times greater in a public cord blood bank vs a private cord blood bank. It’s also important to know public cord banks are very strictly and highly regulated. If we all banked our newborns blood publicly it would dramatically increase the odds of other potential candidates in finding a match. Check out the National Marrow Donor Program for information on public cord blood donating.
Pediatrics, November 2017, Volume 140/Issue 5 From the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement Cord Blood Banking for Potential Future Transplantation
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