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    Banking on Umbilical Cord Blood

    Big Hope for Cord Blood

    Procedure Simple -- But Storage Can Get Costly continued...

    "We don't know anything about his medical history," she tells WebMD about her husband. "We've tried without success to obtain information but don't know any of his blood relatives. It seemed like a simple thing to do that could give significant benefit."

    But banking cord blood through private companies can be costly. The Liljas used Cord Blood Registry (CBR), in San Bruno, Calif., who charge a first-time fee of $1,250 and then an annual storage charge of $95.

    David Harris, PhD, director of CBR's cord blood bank, says storing cord blood is a wise investment when you consider the inevitability of future advances in stem cell research.

    "Today we can use stem cells for blood cancers, some solid tumors, and genetic diseases," he says. "But what will we be able to use it for in the future? Gene therapy will expand, and tissue engineering is going to explode. Though I might not get cancer, when I consider all these future possibilities, the likelihood [of needing stem cells] might go up several hundred times. And when you amortize the costs, it's insignificant."

    Better Safe Than Sorry?

    Harris, who has banked cord blood for his own children, says that on the basis of current capabilities, the chances of a person needing stem cells is in the range of 1 in 2,000.

    Yet that is surely on the low end of estimates. In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement recommending private banking of cord blood only when there is a family member with a current or potential need to undergo a stem cell transplant.

    "The range of estimates [for likelihood of using stored stem cells] is from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000," according to the AAP statement. "Given the difficulty in estimating the need for using one's own cord blood cells for transplantation, private storage of cord blood as biological insurance is unwise."

    The AAP does recommend philanthropic donation of cord blood to public banks.

    Yet as Harris points out, private companies will store cord blood shipped from anywhere in the world, but public banking is accessible only at hospitals and centers that provide the service.

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