Is Cord Blood Banking Worth It?

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Kid's Doctor

Posted on December 12, 2010 at 6:01 AM

During some recent “pre-natal” interviews with couples who are expecting their first baby, I have been asked about cord blood banking.  This question often comes up as prospective parents are given information by either their obstetricians or via the mail regarding private companies that will “bank” a baby’s umbilical cord blood.

In theory, the storage of cord blood is being touted as “biological insurance” in case the child (or possibly another full sibling) may need a stem cell transplant due to a malignancy, bone marrow failure, or certain other metabolic diseases during their lifetime. The chance of this even happening is remote, and at the same time, most conditions that might be helped by cord blood already exist in the infant’s cord blood stem cells and therefore would not be used. (premalignant changes can be found in stem cells).

But, when parents are told that the cord blood may someday help their still unborn child, and then look at the financial commitment which may be hundreds to thousands of dollars, they are also caught thinking, “it is only money” and this might one day save my child’s life.

Of course, when put that way we would all say, “go for it, money does not matter”. But, in reality the investment is not at all guaranteed and to date there is not much scientific data to support autologous (a baby’s own) stem cell transplantation. (Duke University is currently doing some studies on the use of cord blood stem cells for infant brain injuries and I have a patient who is partaking in these studies.)

With this being said, private self-storage programs should be discouraged and umbilical cord blood banking should be encouraged when banked for public use via The National Marrow Donation Program or via state run cord blood banks.  In this way, cord blood stem cells are available to anyone that might need a transplant and could possibly be a match with your child.  The cells may also be used for ongoing research purposes at major medical centers and universities across the country.

When using a public donor cord blood bank, the bank pays for the collection and storing of the baby’s cord blood, and there is not an initial or yearly bill for storing the cord blood. The cord blood is also stored in a consistent manner which complies with national accreditation standards. There is not the need to worry about a financial conflict of interest that may occur when using a private company. Lastly, research continues to look at the storage life of cord blood units, and paying a yearly fee for a child until 18, 21 or into perpetuity may not even guarantee the stem cells viability.

I would talk to my OB-Gyn about donating an infant’s cord blood to the public bank if that is possible in your area. The cord blood bank will need to be notified 4–6 weeks before the baby is due. Once the cord blood is donated, parents will be notified of any abnormalities found in the cord blood (genetic or infectious etc), so that is a bonus too!

Lastly, put the money you would have spent with a private cord blood banking company in your child’s college savings plan and add to it each year, like you were paying for the banking.  You have a much better chance of needing that “bank account”!

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

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