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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?

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.

The federal study underway by the NHLBI hopes to answer questions about the viability and usefulness of cord blood stem cells. Only when the stem cells are proven useful for many people would the government underwrite the massive cost of a national cord blood banking system, researchers say. Which leaves many expectant parents like Lisa Taner with no means of expressing their biological philanthropy.

So as Taner enjoys her newborn baby Drew, she writes to newspapers, television programs, and politicians to promote public funding. "If bone marrow foundations are being funded, why can't we get federal cord blood banking funded?" she asks. "It's easier and less costly than bone marrow transplants. It just makes good sense."

Kristi Coale is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist who specializes in science and medical issues.

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