Banking Your Baby's Cord Blood
The pros and cons, costs, and reasons behind saving your newborn's umbilical cord blood.
Current Cord Blood Use vs. Future Hopes
The current uses of cord blood are limited. But many experts hope that stem cells will be a crucial part of future treatments for diabetes, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries, heart failure, stroke, and many other conditions. If it really were possible to make stem cells develop into any kind of cell, the possibilities would be almost endless.
But this is only theoretical. It's important to distinguish between what doctors can do now with cord blood stem cells versus what they might be able to do in the future. Some people don't realize the distinction. They have exaggerated ideas of what is possible today.
"People talk about stem cell therapy like its alchemy," says Caplan, "as if we can turn a stem cell into anything, just like alchemists hoped to turn base metals into gold. But it's not like that."
Even if researchers do have future successes with stem cells, they may not come from cord blood.
"The science is moving fast right now," Caplan tells WebMD. "I personally am not so sure that using stem cells from cord blood will be the approach we take in the future." Instead, Caplan is more optimistic about techniques using embryonic stem cells or stem cells derived from adult tissue.
Public Cord Blood Banking
There is an alternative to private banking. Some parents decide to donate their child's cord blood to a public cord blood bank for free, which makes it available to anyone who needs it. Most doctors and medical organizations favor public donation. The Institute of Medicine has proposed that Congress create a National Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank Program along the lines of the national bone marrow donation system.
In the unlikely event that your child ever needs the cord blood you donated to a public bank, odds are good that you will be able to get it back.
"The chances that anyone will ever use a particular unit of cord blood that you donate is small," says Feig. "So if your child needs it 10 years down the pike, there's an overwhelming chance that the cells will still be available."
Obviously, there's no guarantee, but it's something to keep in mind. If you are interested in public cord blood donation, get in touch with the National Marrow Donor Program at www.marrow.org. You can also ask your health care provider about medical centers in your area that might accept donations.
But Ecker points out that we're still a ways off from organized public cord blood banking. In most of the country, a public donation isn't even possible. There's no system in place. So for many people, the choice isn't between public and private banking. It's between private banking and letting the cord blood go to waste.