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Experts Tout Value of Cord Blood Banks

Researchers Say Donating Baby's Umbilical Cord Blood Can Be a Lifesaver

Public vs. Private Cord Blood Banks continued...

The limitations of private cord blood banking are twofold, he says. They include the low likelihood of usage and the viability of the cells over the long term.

If a child develops leukemia, for example, there are likely cells in his or her cord blood that would retrigger the disease process.

What's more, "companies that do private banking promise that the cells will be available for some time, but [they will not be viable] when the child is 50 or 60 and has some type of disease that cord blood may help like Parkinson's tremors or dementia," he says.

However, "if anything happens to their child or relatives with disease that require bone marrow transplants -- such as leukemia and lymphoma -- they would have access to their cord blood and that of many others in the public bank," adds Malcolm A.S. Moore, DPhil, the Enid A. Haupt Professor of Cell Biology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

That's not to say that there aren't downsides to public cord blood banks.

For one, there is no guarantee that people who donate cord blood to a public bank will have access to their blood if and when they need it. What's more, public banking is currently only available in a limited number of U.S. hospitals and often only on certain days of the week.

New Technology in Cord Blood Banks

New technology is being developed that helps maximize the existing supply of public cord blood.

Researchers are learning to expand the number of stem cells in an individual's cord blood with the use of certain growth factors.  The more cells there are, the better the chances for engraftment, the process in which a new blood system is formed.

Double cord transplants that use two matched cord blood donors instead of one are also helping improve the chances of engraftment. "If done properly, we have data that these transplants work," says Rubinstein.

"We are trying to make storage more effective," adds Moore. "This will potentially allow a single cord blood donation to be used to transplant multiple individuals," he explains.

Here's how it may look:

"We take some cord blood out of the bank for transplantation, expand the rest [using growth factors or other technologies] and then put it back in the bank for several years until it is needed again," he says. In this case, the cord blood will likely be available if and when the initial donor needs it.

Looking into his crystal ball for WebMD, Moore predicts that umbilical cord blood may hold the secrets to eternal youth.

"We know that old stem cells are not as good as young stem cells and that if we put young stem cells into an older person, these cells regenerate better," he says.  In the future, we may develop the technology to stop aging using cells from cord blood. Stay tuned.

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