Many parents keep their newborn baby’s umbilical cord for posterity. Little do they know they can make a difference to other people by donating this cast-out body part.
Also known as the placenta, the umbilical cord contains blood rich in stem cells. These cells can be transplanted, like bone marrow, to sufferers of leukemia, among other fatal conditions. Globally, over 14,000 cord blood transplants from unrelated donors have been performed on patients.
In theory, stem cells are the kind of cells that scientists hope could one day be used to treat an assortment of conditions, such as diabetes, heart failure, and Alzheimer’s disease. By banking your child’s cord blood, or storing it for future use, you could save lives.
Public cord blood banking
Cord blood banking is a precious investment, especially if you choose to do it with a public bank. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both exhort parents to opt for public cord blood banking. This option offers stem cells to any patient in need of them.
Public cord blood donation also serves another purpose, i.e. create a larger, wider variety of cord blood units. In this respect, the AMA and AAP encourage minorities to bank cord blood publicly to make matching easier. African-Americans, Asians, American Indians, Alaska and Hawaii natives, Hispanics, and Pacific islanders are all encouraged to donate. Those of multiracial profiles are encouraged too.
If you decide to bank cord blood for public use, the tissue in question will be examined for infections and congenital defects.
By all accounts, public cord blood banking is free. But know that ceding cord blood to a public bank makes it fair game to everyone else. You are no longer its chief beneficiary; anyone can claim it for his or her use at anytime.
Private cord blood banking
Banking cord blood privately or for your own use has drawbacks. Along with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the AMA and AAP do not endorse private cord blood banking as an insurance of sorts.
There is a very slim chance your child would use the privately banked cord blood. An autologous cord blood transplant – a transplant of stem cells sourced from your own cord blood – cannot plausibly treat sickle cell disease, thalassemia, and other genetic conditions widely viewed to respond to these procedures. The reason is that the mutant causes of these conditions have been in your cord blood from the outset. For the same reason, an autologous transplant barely does any good to leukemia and similar conditions.
Due to these impediments, no more than 150 autologous transplants have been undertaken in the past 20 years.
Nevertheless, private cord blood banking is recommended for future autologous transplants of adoptive children. The cord blood of a baby conceived via artificial insemination or IVF is also a candidate for private banking.
Your cord blood may work on your full sibling who has a genetic or malignant disorder like aplastic and sickle-cell anemia; Krabbe’s disease; leukemia; lymphoma; and severe combined immune deficiency. Still, he or she merely has a 25 percent chance of genetically matching your blood. In that case, your sibling is better off with a transplant from a non-relative.
On the whole, it is advisable to bank your baby’s placenta privately if your bloodline has a record of the foregoing conditions. Remember, however, that 70 percent of those looking to get transplants should seek them from non-relatives first.
Probably the foremost reason why medical organizations discourage private banking is that it costs too much. Any benefit you derive from your cord blood is offset by the exorbitant price tag. More effective treatments may be affordable, in comparison.