The collection and storage of cord blood has become a popular new trend among new and expectant parents.
Blood collected from the umbilical cord at birth is stored so that it can be used in the future.
Cord blood is rich in stem cells, which can be transformed into any human cell.
This means they have the potential to be used as a treatment if your child, another sibling, or a relative becomes ill with certain diseases later in life.
But is cord blood banking actually worth it?
Cord Blood Banking – Pros and Cons
Some see cord blood banking as a form of insurance against future illness. But many medical experts don’t support the practice of cord blood banking, saying the possible benefits are very slight.
Pros of Cord Blood Banking
The blood collected from the cord is, in fact, the same blood your baby receives from the placenta. The blood itself is not ‘from the cord’ but collected from that area. This blood is rich in stem cells, which can grow into blood vessels, organs, and tissues.
Cord blood is used to treat blood diseases such as leukaemia, lymphoma and anaemia, as well as immune disorders. Commonly these diseases are treated with chemotherapy, which destroys the patient’s immune system.
An Alternative To Bone Marrow Transplantation
Transplantation of cord blood can rebuild the patient’s immune system. These days cord blood is used as an alternative to bone marrow transplantation.
Cord blood is easier to match than blood stem cells from other parts of the body. Cells from cord blood are also less mature than cells from an adult’s bone marrow, so the recipient’s body is less likely to reject them.
A Painless Procedure
Because cord blood is gathered immediately after the birth, it’s a painless procedure and much less complicated compared with collecting other stem cells.
Cord blood is always accessible – if you pay to have it stored in a private blood bank. The cord blood is reserved for your baby and your own family; it can’t be accessed or used by anyone else. As long as you keep paying for the storage, the cord blood is available indefinitely.
Cons of Cord Blood Banking
Cord blood banking doesn’t come cheaply, and there are many companies offering more and more services with additional price tags.
How much does cord blood banking cost? Most cord banks charge between $1,000 and $3,000 for collection and testing, as well as annual storage fees of between $90 and $175.
The benefits for low risk families with no known history or immune or blood disorders are not clear. Unless you have a family member with a medical condition that might be helped by a stem-cell transplant, associations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advise against cord blood storage in private bank facilities, because of the cost.
Public cord blood banks collect and store blood without charge; however the blood is available for use by anyone in the world who needs a stem cell transplant. If the cord blood is not suitable for banking, it may be used for stem cell research. If your child or a family member needs a cord blood transplant, and the cord blood is still in the bank and usable, it will be made available.
Cord Blood Is Highly Unlikely Needed In Future
Many experts believe it’s highly unlikely your child will actually need his or her own cord blood for treatment in the future.
According to a 2005 editorial in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, the chances are about 1 in 2,700. Similarly, the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation state currently less than 4/100th of one percent. However, the AAP suggests it’s more like 1 in 200,000. This is especially true if there is no family history of diseases such as leukemia or sickle cell anaemia.
There are limits in terms of what cord blood can be used to treat. If your baby gets sick, a donor transplant will likely be needed, rather than his or her own cells.
For example, if your baby were born with a genetic condition, such as spina bifida, her stem cells would carry this condition as well and therefore couldn’t be used to treat her. Similarly with leukemia, the stem cells may already have pre-leukemic changes.
Currently, cord blood can only treat blood and immune diseases. There is research being done into other ways of using cord blood, such as in the treatment of diabetes, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, but there is no conclusive evidence this research will lead to effective treatments.
Unlikely To Be Compatible With Delayed Cord Clamping
If you wish to keep the umbilicial cord intact after birth, so your baby receives the benefits of delayed cord clamping, cord blood collection might not be an option for you. This will depend on the hospital and its collection policy. Staff can wait until the cord has finished pulsating, cut the cord, and then drain the placenta of the remaining blood.
However, most cord banks state one of the key factors in successful cord blood treatment is the volume of blood which is infused with stem cells: the greater the cord blood volume, the greater the chance of a successful outcome for the treatment.
Some cord banks require the umbilical cord to be cut after one minute, when the recommended time for delayed cord clamping is a minimum of two minutes. Ideally a baby can receive his or her full volume of blood – the cord blood can account for around one third of the baby’s blood volume, which is significant.
If you are considering cord blood banking when your baby is born, talk over the options with your health care provider, and look into your family’s medical history to see if your child, or your family, is at risk for certain diseases.
The decision to bank your child’s cord blood is a personal one. Some parents believe the potential benefits are too few to justify the cost, or lose the advantages of delayed cord clamping; others believe it’s a worthwhile investment.