Understanding Cord Blood Banking

Many expectant couples are not aware that they may have the option of saving their baby’s cord blood. In fact, more than a few are likely unfamiliar with the term itself. Here are some facts about cord blood and what options for saving the blood are currently available.

“Cord blood is the blood taken from the umbilical cord and placenta after the birth of a healthy baby,” says Misty Marchioni, director of Community Blood Services in New Windsor. The stem cells found in cord blood are currently used to treat leukemias and certain cancers. Research is being done with stem cells to treat Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injuries.

Stem cells are cells that have the capacity to become other types of cells—lung cells, heart, muscle, etc. Other sources of non-embryonic stem cells are bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells. Cord blood has several advantages over other stem cells.

Because cord blood is collected and cryogenically stored, it can be available for transplant in 24 hours. Finding a registered viable bone marrow donor can be a time-consuming process, and in some cases patients do not have much time. Bone marrow donation is painful, and peripheral blood donation is uncomfortable and time-consuming. Also, the more mature stem cells found in bone marrow and peripheral blood are more likely to cause graft vs. host disease, which occurs when the body recognizes the transplanted stem cells as foreign substances and begins to attack and destroy these new stem cells. Because cord blood stem cells have not done a lot of “fighting,” they may reduce graft vs. host disease by as much as 50 percent, according to Donald Hudspeth, general manager and international project manager at Cryobanks International, Inc.

Saving is expensive

One of the biggest concerns about cord blood banking is cost. Saving cord blood in a private bank has an initial cost along with an annual fee. “It’s not free and it’s not cheap,” says Hudspeth. “One of the first questions you have to ask is can you afford to do it.” There is an upfront cost of about $2,000 and then a yearly fee of $100 or more to maintain the cord blood. The perceived advantage is that you are guaranteed that your child or someone else in the family who is a compatible recipient would have the cord blood available if the need arose.

Public banking is also an option. However, it costs a public bank about $1,000 to process cord blood for storage. To accept donations without charge, the bank must have income to support the laboratory. That income may come from federal funding (The C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program authorized by the Stem Cell Therapeutic and research Act of 2005 provides funding to cover the expense of collecting and storing public cord blood donations) it may come from private banking profits, or selling some of the donations to research programs. Still, many hospitals do not offer this service—there are currently none in the Hudson Valley region. The closest hospitals are in New York City.

Jamie Lober is a nationally known speaker providing information on women’s and pediatric health topics. jamie@getpinkpower.com.

How does cord blood banking work?