Cord-Blood Banking can have Life-Saving Benefits, but Local Doctors Advise Parents to do Their Homework
When expecting a new baby, parents have many decisions to make: what name to choose, how to decorate the nursery, what hospital to use, etc. However, in the midst of all the excitement, parents might overlook researching and making another important decision — whether to save their newborn’s cord blood.
After a baby is delivered, the mother’s body releases the placenta, the temporary organ that transferred oxygen and nutrients to the baby while in the mother’s uterus. Until recently, in most cases the umbilical cord and placenta were discarded after birth without a second thought. But during the 1970s, researchers discovered that umbilical cord blood could supply the same kinds of blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells as a bone marrow donor. And so, umbilical cord blood began to be collected and stored.
“Umbilical cord blood has a rich source of cells, called hematopoietic stem cells and progenitor cells, that have the potential to treat a wide variety of clinical illnesses, including certain genetic, blood, immununological, and cancer abnormalities,” says Dr. Donald Eason, a pediatrician with Clark & Daughtrey in Winter Haven. “In the right situations and in the right people, these cells can save lives.”
Dr. Peter Alvarez, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Lakeland Obstetrics and Gynecology, agrees.
“Many parents are beginning to recognize that their child’s cord blood stem cells can be a powerful resource against injuries and disease both in childhood and perhaps in the future, depending on how the research unfolds,” he says.
Making a Decision
Cord-blood banking isn’t routine in hospital or home deliveries — it’s a procedure that has to be chosen and planned for beforehand.
“The decision needs to be made prior to delivery of the baby so proper arrangements can be made to obtain the cord blood and make sure it is properly stored,” says Dr. Sergio Seoane, a Lakeland-based family physician. “If the delivery becomes complicated or an emergency occurs, then generally speaking, it is not recommended that cord blood be obtained.”
If the decision is made to save the cord blood, Seoane says it’s a safe and painless procedure.
Alvarez adds that parents have two options for preserving their baby’s cord blood.
“With private or ‘family’ banking, your baby’s cord blood is stored for a fee for exclusive use by your family should a medical need arise in the future,” he says. “Some banks have programs for families with an existing medical need, like Cord Blood Registry’s (CBR’s) Designated Treatment Program. This provides cord blood collection and storage at no cost when a family member has been diagnosed with a life-threatening condition that can be treated with stem cells.”
The other option is donating to a public bank, where the baby’s cord blood is donated anonymously for potential use by a patient who needs a transplant.
If you choose not to bank or donate, the baby’s cord blood is discarded at the hospital.
Benefits of Banking
The primary reason that parents consider banking their newborn’s cord blood is because they have a child or close relative with (or a family medical history of) diseases that can be treated with bone marrow transplants. Some diseases that more commonly involve bone marrow transplants include certain kinds of leukemia or lymphoma, aplastic anemia, severe sickle cell anemia, and severe combined immunodeficiency.
“There are enormous benefits for the members of our society when parents donate cord blood to public cord blood banks,” Seoane says. “Cord blood saves lives. The advantages to our society are tremendous when cord blood is donated to public cord banks and we all benefit when this is done.The benefits of the private storage of cord blood is not as clear. I would encourage parents to donate their baby’s cord blood to public cord blood banks so as many children and adults can benefit from this unique and exceptional gift.”
Alvarez adds that families who are ethnic minorities or are of mixed ethnicity, in which there is greater difficulty finding stem cell donors, or adopting a newborn and wanting a genetic source of stem cells for the adopted baby also might be encouraged to save the baby’s cord blood.
It’s Not for Everyone
However, cord-blood banking isn’t all positive.
The American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a policy statement in 2001 on cord-blood banking. In it, they discouraged parents from choosing to bank cord blood if the primary reason the cord blood is being banked is for potential future use in their own infant. Seoane says he agrees with the academy on its statement.
“In 2009, over half of the cord blood transplants have been for adults rather than children,” he says. “Paying a bank to store your cord blood when the chances of you using this cord blood is very low does not seem logical. If your child has a genetic disorder then it is unlikely that you would use this cord blood.”
Eason says the collection and storage costs also can be expensive. “If a private blood bank is used, the cost of collection of cord blood for banking can range, as I understand it, from $900 up to $2,000, and there is an ongoing annual storage fee of about $100 or so,” he estimates. “The costs would obviously be lower if the blood is stored in a public blood bank, but that blood would not be reserved for the infant or a family member.”
Eason also says parents should beware of the claims of some cord blood banks. “Unfortunately, some private cord blood banks make claims about using cord blood to cure conditions such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, but there is no medical evidence to support these claims,” he warns.
Do Your Homework
The physicians encourage their patients to do their homework when considering cord-blood banking.
“Not all cord blood banks are created equally,” Alvarez says. “The more reputable companies have very thorough tracking and monitoring systems in place, not to mention the research and technology that has gone into their processing and storage methods. They also typically have more experience releasing cord blood units for medical use. I would recommend looking at the banks that offer these types of services and credentials, as some are more sophisticated than others and offer better protection for your investment.”
Also, the doctors advise patients to discuss their options with their prenatal care provider.
“[Parents] can also find good information at www.parentsguidecordblood.com,” Alvarez says. “This site contains a guide to all the cord blood banks in the country and background on cord blood stem cell science and research. There is also an educational tutorial and lots of additional information available at www.cordblood.com.”
Dr. Peter Alvarez offers some factors to look for in a cord blood bank:
- The bank should be accredited by the AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks) to ensure they specialize in the processing and storage of cord blood stem cells.
- Ideally, the lab should be owned and operated by the bank and in a location less affected by natural disasters and transportation delays due to weather, which could disrupt the delivery and long-term storage of samples.
- The number of cord blood units that the bank has released for successful medical treatments is a good indication of the validity of their processing methods.
- Since most families will require long-term storage, choosing a cord blood bank that is financially stable and will ensure the bank will be around in the future and that the cord blood stem cells will be available if needed.
- Affiliation with research institutions ensures the bank stays on the cutting-edge of the latest collection, processing and storage technology, as well as the scientific advancements in the therapeutic application of cord blood stem cells.
story by MEREDITH JEAN MORTON