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Banking on Umbilical Cord Blood

Big Hope for Cord Blood

Best Use of Money?

The technical hurdles surrounding use of cord blood stem cells has created resistance to their use in transplantation -- and hence to more widespread adoption of public banking by hospitals, says Rebecca Haley, MD, interim chief medical officer of the biomedical services of the American Red Cross.

Because the immaturity of stem cells in cord blood requires a long waiting period for them to multiply following transplant, there is an increased risk of infection during the interim

"That can be expensive for hospitals because they have to support the patient," Haley tells WebMD. "No hospital wants to hear about a more expensive mode of doing things. Under managed care, the hospital may only get so much for each transplant, and if they overspend the hospital has to absorb the margin."

The American Red Cross currently has seven active cord blood collection sites around the country.

Bioethicist Art Caplan, PhD, says parents cannot be faulted for banking their child's cord blood but suggests that public banking is preferable.

"People will pay quite a lot for their children's health," he tells WebMD. "I worry that people will select storage as much from guilt as they do from thinking what is the best way to spend their money. I think the best interests of the public are not served by having a privatized system. We will all be better off if we come up with a nonprofit system."

Caplan is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Yet it is likely that many expectant parents will opt for private banking. So what should they know before they go into it?

Lilja urges parents to scrupulously research the private company they choose, and to enlist physicians and labor nurses in their decision. Because cord blood banking is still not mainstream, some healthcare professionals may be unfamiliar with the practice, he says.

"Make sure you know how the procedure is supposed to go and make sure you talk to doctors and labor and delivery nurses," Lilja advises. "They are probably not going to have any idea what you want to do. You have to be your own advocate, or it's not going to happen."

Mark Moran is WebMD's Cleveland regional reporter, writing about medicine, science, and health policy throughout the metro area.

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