Is Cord Blood Banking Worth It?
Soon to be parents may be thinking about banking their newborn's cord blood. The procedure takes blood from the umbilical cord at birth and stores it. Cord blood is rich in stem cells (pluripotent cells that have the ability to transform into just about any human cell) so the idea is that it could someday be used to treat certain diseases should they develop in the child. It might also be useful for a sick sibling or relative. Banking cord blood is a way of preserving potentially life-saving cells which usually gets thrown away after birth.
The idea of Cord Blood Banking makes sense. But is it really worth it for most people? The banks argue that it's a form of "insurance" in case your children ever get sick. However, many medical experts say that possible benefits are too remote to justify the costs.
To help you make an informed choice about whether or not Cord Blood Banking is worth your while, we list its pros and cons.
Cord blood is rich in stem cells, which can be used to treat certain diseases of the blood and immune system, such as leukemia, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. The stem cells can also help the body recover from some cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation. Although some may argue that there are other ways to obtain these pluripotent cell, such as from bone marrow, but cord blood, being less mature than cells from an adult bone marrow, is easier to match with patients, and because it is gathered during birth from the umbilical cord, it's a painless procedure.
Experts tend to agree that banking might be wise in certain cases. For instance, if someone in the immediate family has leukemia, sickle cell anemia, or some other blood disorder, banking could make sense, either for the child or for another family member.
Over the years, treatment with cord blood has become more successuful.
The current uses of cord blood are limited. But experts hope that with advances in medical science, stem cells may help in future treatments for Alzheimer's, diabetes mellitus, spinal cord injuries, heart failure, stroke, and many other conditions. If stem cells can develop into any kind of cell, the possibilities are almost limitless. At least that's the theory.
If you store your cord blood at a private bank, your cord blood will always be available for your own use, or use by your family. No one else can access or use it. If, however, you donate your cord blood to a public bank, then anyone who needs compatible cord blood can have it. There's no guarantee that it will be available should you or your family need it.
Cord blood banking can be expensive at a private banking facility. Private banks charge an upfront fee as well as an annual storage fee. Donations to public blood banks are free.
The conditions which cord blood may be used to treat is currently rather limited. If a child is born with a genetic condition like muscular dystrophy or spina bifida, then the cord blood cells would also have this genetic defect, and would then not be useful in treating the condition. But if the the cord blood donor cells are healthy, then they can potentially be used to treat a genetic condition in a sibling or immediate family member.
According to most experts, the odds that a child will ever use his or her own stored cord blood are small. A 2005 editorial in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, the chances are put at about 1 in 2,700. Other estimates tend to range widely, from as high as 1 in 27 to as low as 1 in 200,000 (as suggested by the American Academy of Paediatrics).
Since only a very small amount of blood is collected, there is a limited number of stem cells stored. Hence, cord blood is generally only used to treat diseases in children, since there just isn't enough stem cells to treat most adults.
Expectant parents also need to understand that cord blood isn't the only possible treatment. Most people who need a transplant of stem cells could still get them from donated bone marrow, either from a family member or a marrow bank.
Cord blood at public banks have a greater chance of eventually being used, either in a patient or in stem cell research. Cord blood stored at private banks, however, are more likely to be discarded.
So is Cord Blood Banking Worth it?
Deciding whether or not to bank your child's cord blood is personal decision. Some parents feel that the potential benefits are just too few to justify the costs, while others feel it is like a form of "insurance", a worthwhile investment.
The key is to understand the arguments for and against it, so that you can make a rational decision.