Can the Umbilical Cord Save Lives?
Perhaps. Once tossed in the trash, they are now thought to help kids with a host of ailments. So why aren't more of them being saved?
Finding the True Risk Levels
Meanwhile, the marketing tactics used by private cord blood banks have come
under criticism and investigation.
A study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found
that some private banks exaggerate most families' risks of developing a serious
medical condition that will warrant a cord blood transplant.
What's the true risk? Estimates that a child might need cord blood range
from one in 1,000 to one in 200,000, according to the American Academy of
Pediatrics. The Cord Blood Registry, in five years of operation, says only 14
of its more than 20,000 samples have been used in transplants.
Based on the real risk and the fact that "empirical evidence that
children will need their own cord blood for future use is lacking," the
respected Academy does not recommend that parents store their child's blood for
Grant at the Cord Blood Registry, however, says talk of statistics misses
the point. "People talk about the odds of [privately stored cord blood]
being used, that it's an investment that won't pan out. But do you have fire
insurance on your home because you're hoping it will burn down? The reality is
that nobody wants to use their stem cells," says Grant.
Just Who Is a Candidate for Private Banking?
"We strongly advise families that have a child in the family who has had
a transplantable disease to bank privately," says Fraser. When these
high-risk families bank privately, they are doing so for use in a sibling and
not in the baby whose blood is collected, says Fraser. Why can't a baby use its
own cord blood? If that baby develops sickle-cell anemia or leukemia, the
disease will likely be present in its cord blood as well.
Another hurdle for public cord blood banking is amassing a sufficiently
diverse stockpile of donations for use by the general population. A center must
bank 2,000 to 5,000 samples -- again, at a cost of $1,500 each -- before it can
even begin placing them in transplant recipients, says Heidi Patterson,
national director of the American Red Cross Cord Blood Banking program.