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The Promise of Cord Blood

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The Promise of Cord Blood

The Promise of Cord Blood

August 06, 2007

By: Rebecca K. Abma for Veins1

Visit any pregnancy-related website and you’re sure to be inundated with information about cord blood banking. Collected from the umbilical cord and placenta after birth, cord blood contains all of the same elements as regular blood — red and white blood cells, platelets and plasma — plus hematopoietic, or blood-forming, stem cells, similar to those found in bone marrow.

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Points To Consider
  • While cord blood banking poses very little risk to mother and child, it is not routinely done in hospitals. If you decide to store or donate your child’s cord blood, you’ll need to plan ahead.
  • Make sure the doctor and hospital are on board. Whether you plan to donate or store the blood, find out if cord blood banking or donating is practiced at your hospital. If you plan to store the blood, talk to your doctor before committing to a specific company.
  • Consider the costs. Collecting and storing cord blood can be expensive. Private blood banks charge approximately $2,000 to collect the blood and approximately $125 per year for storage. The doctor’s collection fees range from $100 to $250. If you are donating the blood, the doctor may waive the fee, but to avoid any surprises, discuss it in advance.
  • Research the company. Before deciding on a private bank, make sure they’re financially stable and find out what you can do if the facility goes out of business. Also ask if the yearly fees and maintenance costs are fixed or may increase over time.
  • “Cord blood is currently used to treat approximately 70 chronic or life-threatening diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and aplastic anemia,” explains David Zitlow, a senior vice president with the Cord Blood Registry. “Cord blood is a valuable medical resource, yet 95 percent of it is still discarded as medical waste.”

    Parents-to-be have the option of storing their baby’s cord blood in a private cord blood bank or donating it to a public cord blood bank. Private banking ensures the cells will be available if the family needs them in the future. The cells, a perfect match to the child, have a one-in-four chance of also matching a parent or sibling. This makes private banking an attractive idea for families with a history of diseases that can be treated with bone marrow.

    Babies without a family history of disease, however, are unlikely to ever use their cord blood. In fact, research estimates the odds are one in 2,700 a child will need to use the cord blood and one in 1,400 that a family member will need it. For these families, donating to a public bank may be a good option.

    Stem Cells: Medical Marvels

    Perhaps the most promising – and controversial – medical discovery of the last 50 years is stem cells. They are unspecialized cells with unlimited potential. Under the right conditions, these blank cells can hypothetically be transformed into cells with specific functions, like the beating cells of a heart muscle or insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.

    Currently, stem cells are used for bone marrow transplants and save thousands of leukemia and lymphoma patients each year. With more research, scientists believe more cell-based therapies could drastically change the way we treat diseases, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis and more.

    Bone marrow transplants traditionally use adult, or somatic, stem cells, which are found in tissues and organs throughout the body and believed to be used for cell repair and regeneration. Some researchers question the full potential of adult stem cells, because they appear to have a limited ability to become different types of cells.

    Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, can be transformed into virtually any cell, but research is shrouded in controversy. Starting a stem cell line requires destroying or cloning an embryo, two hot-button topics that involve social and ethical challenges.

    But there’s new hope for the future of stem cell research. Stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood show promise as a non-controversial alternative to embryonic stem cells. Researchers believe these cord-blood-derived embryonic-like stem cells have greater potential than adult stem cells, because they can be transformed into any type of cell, much like embryonic stem cells. What’s more, unlike bone marrow, which requires a perfect HLA match, cord blood transplants have been successful with only a partial match.

    The latest proof: A study published in the June 9 issue of The Lancet shows five-year survival rates for leukemia patients are equal for those treated with umbilical cord blood and those with a bone marrow transplant. Since cord blood requires only a partial match, researchers note you can find a match for most patients, which is not always the case with bone marrow.

    If you decide to donate your baby’s cord blood, contact your local American Red Cross or check the National Marrow Donor Program for more information a few months before your due date. There’s no cost to donate cord blood and all donations are confidential.

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