Being an expectant parent is a monumental experience, one that comes with a plethora of information and advice at your disposal. Like any new life-changing event, many first-time parents will add a host of parenting books to their home or tablet library and even participate in parenting education opportunities to prepare them for what lies ahead. While subjects such as birth outcomes and breastfeeding are common topics of interest, many parents go through pregnancy without ever learning information on the potential medical value of the stem cells in a baby’s umbilical cord blood.
Cord blood is a rich source of blood stem cells—the building blocks of the blood and immune system. They have the ability to develop into other types of cells, so they can help repair organs, tissues, and blood vessels, while also having the ability to be used to treat a host of diseases. What makes cord blood a unique commodity is that while it contains similar stem cells to bone marrow, those cells from cord blood are less mature than an adult’s bone marrow, meaning a recipient’s body is less likely to reject them.
Banking (storing) cord blood is a way of preserving potentially life-saving cells that usually get thrown away after birth. Parents have an opportunity to either privately bank these cells for a fee (to be used for their own family use); or donate cells to public banks free of charge (for the benefit of patients seeking a transplant).
No one debates that it is advantageous to save cord blood stem cells, but it can be confusing to decide where to store them. Public and private banks serve very different purposes, and it is important to know which type of bank would be more beneficial to you and your family.
The Pros and Cons of Private Cord Blood Banking
Private cord blood banks allow families to store cord blood stem cells for themselves and their loved ones. They are privately funded, and typically charge a first-year processing fee that ranges from about $1,500 to $2,500, plus annual storage costs of about $120 to $150.
- You own your baby’s stem cells and you are the only person who can decide who can use them.
- Stem cell transplants from a related family member are less likely to be rejected, which makes it less likely you would have to search for an unrelated donor who is a match.
- The success rates of using related cord blood for transplants are twice that of using cord blood from a public donor for transplants.
- Most private cord blood banks will pay all of the fees associated with transporting the stored cord blood to the necessary medical facility if it is needed for a transplant.
- The fees for collection and storage are quite expensive.
- There is a risk that the cord blood collected from a baby contains the disease that is being treated, so it cannot be used.
If you or your spouse or partner has a family history of a disease that is treatable with stem cells, or if a family member is currently in need of a stem cell transplant, private cord blood banking could be the right choice for you.
The Pros and Cons of Public Cord Blood Banking
Public cord blood banks offer cord blood banking at no cost to the family for anyone who meets their donation requirements. They are usually supported by federal or private funding, which is why they can perform these collections for free.
- Cord blood banking is provided at no cost.
- Makes stem cells available to anyone who needs them.
- Makes it possible for people in need of a stem cell transplant to search for a match outside of their family.
- You no longer own the stem cells after you donate them, so they may not be available if you or a family member ever need them.
- Public cord blood banks do not pay the fees associated with transporting the stored cord blood to a medical facility if they are needed for a transplant. If this is not covered by your insurance, it could be very costly to use stem cells from a public cord blood bank.
For many parents-to-be, hearing that cord blood cells are promising for treating some devastating diseases is welcome news. But what's vitally important to remember is that all of the diseases for which cord blood transplantation might be used are extremely rare in the vast majority of families. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that there are no accurate estimates of the likelihood of children needing their own stored cells with available estimates ranging from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000. That being said, if you have a family history of diseases that might be corrected with transplantation (such as Sickle Cell Anemia, Hunter Syndrome or Acute lymphoblastic leukemia), cord blood banking may be something to consider seriously, if you can afford it.
Knowledge is power. While information is everywhere, parents-to-be should have a thoughtful discussion with their obstetrician on cord blood banking and any other issue you need further clarification on.
Dr. Ingrid Kotch is an OB/GYN at The Women's Center of South Shore Medical Center in Weymouth and is currently accepting new patients. If you’d like to register yourself or a family member as a new patient, call 781-682-1686 or request a call from a new patient registration specialist.