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
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
"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.