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Experts Tout Value of Cord Blood Banks

Researchers Say Donating Baby's Umbilical Cord Blood Can Be a Lifesaver
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 1, 2008 (New York) -- Leading scientists have an important public health message for all expectant moms: Donate your infant's umbilical cord blood to a public bank.

The life you save may be your own, your child's, a close relative's, or even a complete stranger's. 

As the amount and diversity of cord blood in public banks grow, researchers will be increasingly able to supply cord blood to those in need of bone marrow transplants, study diseases that may originate in these cells, and develop new technology to allow the existing supply to stretch even further, said experts speaking here Monday at a conference on cord blood.

The Importance of Cord Blood

Umbilical cord blood is a rich source of blood-forming or hematopoietic stem cells. These cells are found primarily in the bone marrow and can morph into three types of mature blood cells -- red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Because of these unique properties, cord blood can be used for transplantation instead of bone marrow for a growing list of diseases including leukemia, a type of cancer that begins in the bone marrow.

Cord blood may one day be used as a regenerative source of other cells such as the endothelial cells, which line blood vessels, or mesenchymal cells, which help regenerate bone and cartilage. And cord blood does not have the moral or political controversies of other stem cell sources; in fact, it is normally discarded after a baby is born.

"Technologies are helping researchers extract even more value from cord blood that was previously thought to be medical waste," says Robert L. Jones, MD, president and CEO if the New York Blood Center in New York City. Going forward, "we can expect the supply and the diversity of the supply to increase," he says. The benefits of this research will be exponential.

"It's clear that the general public is catching on to one of today's medical miracles."

Public vs. Private Cord Blood Banks

The real issue facing new parents is not whether to donate their cord blood, but where to donate it. For-profit private cord blood banks are increasingly clamoring for their business. An autologous (self) transplant can also be done if a child's umbilical cord blood has been stored in a private cord blood bank, and that may seem very attractive to new parents.  It costs about $600 to $1,900 for the initial collection, and there are also annual storage fees.

Parents can also donate their baby's umbilical cord blood to a public bank for free where it will be used for research and transplants to treat a variety of diseases.

"Private cord blood banks recruit for more mothers to donate, but the the likelihood of their cord blood having any benefit for their own children is essentially very low," says Pablo Rubinstein, MD, the chief scientist for cord blood, stem cells, and tissue at the New York Blood center in New York City. He says cord blood from public banks has been used for more than 15,000 transplants. In contrast, cord blood stored in private banks has only been used for about 60 or 70 transplants.

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