Cord Blood Banking – Why I changed my mind

Cord blood banking vs. donation—what to do with those stem cells

I changed my mind about cord blood and cord tissue banking.  Here’s why.

It seemed like a scam: send your newborn’s umbilical cord blood to a freezer in a far-off state and CordBloodthen pay money every year for it to stay there.  I used to think private cord blood banking was a rather pathetic way to make money off worried expectant parents.  I was bombarded with expensive marking from for-profit cord blood banks, from emails to Facebook ads.  So with our first four children I opted to donate their umbilical cord blood to a public cord blood registry instead of a private bank.  But with our fifth child I changed my mind.  How do you choose between cord blood donation vs. private cord blood banking?  As a pediatrician and a mother of five, here’s how I look at the issue.   

A baby’s umbilical cord contains very special “stem” cells that can grow into other kinds of specialized cells, either in the body or in a laboratory.  These cells can be used to treat illnesses where your body needs to regenerate specialized cells.  For example, umbilical cord blood can be used for bone marrow transplantation.  Stem cells from umbilical cord tissue can regenerate nerve, liver, and other specific tissues.

Science is changing.  Treatments that sounded like science-fiction a few years ago are becoming a reality.  Stem cells are currently being used to treat cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injury.  Right now, there are more than 200 clinical research trials worldwide that use stem cells to treat type I diabetes, hearing loss, pediatric stroke, autism, spinal cord injury, HIV, tendon/sports injuries, Alzheimer’s and more.  Scientists in Japan are using stem cells to grow tiny livers that they have transplanted into mice with liver failure.  They hope to grow livers for human transplantation in the next 10 years.  These are conditions for which few other treatments exist.  Nine years ago, when I had my first child, this research didn’t exist.  But we can’t do it without stem cells.

Why pay a few thousand dollars to privately bank your baby’s cord blood when you can donate it for free to a public cord blood registry?  If your child ever gets sick, you can just look for a “match” in the public registry and it should be there, right?  Wrong.

Here’s why we choose private cord blood banking instead of cord blood donation:

  • A large percentage of cord blood donations don’t even make it into the public registry’s inventory.  Samples are rejected for many reasons, including concerns about the parents’ or baby’s heath, or the way in which the blood was collected.
  • Most public registries only store cord blood, not cord tissue.  Cord blood is most useful for treating blood-related cancers such as leukemia.  The stem cells found in cord tissue are far more versatile—they can be used to treat more conditions.  As research in this area grows it is likely that public registries will start banking cord tissue, but for now they only accept cord blood.
  • Cord blood Inventory has high turnover rate, meaning that your child’s blood may be used for research or to treat an unrelated individual.  If your child needs their cord blood, it might not be there.
  • A baby’s banked cord blood can often be used to treat other family members, including siblings, parents and grandparents, depending on their genetic make-up.

Cord blood registries are still vitally important, and if you don’t choose private banking, please donate your baby’s cord blood as we did with our first four children.  Some types of leukemia and cancers are best treated with a transplant of cells from an unrelated donor found through a cord blood registry.

Critics of cord blood banking often cite the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics statement on this issue, which supports donation to a cord blood registry rather than private cord blood banking.  This statement, published in 2009, is based on 2007 research data, which is now terribly out of date.  Additionally, this statement cites a statistic that there is a 1/10,000 chance that a banked sample will be used, a number that Dr. Morey Krus of ViaCord, a private cord blood bank, feels is inaccurate.  He provided separate third-party research that suggests there is about a 1/1666 chance, given uses of cord blood today, that any child will have a disease requiring a stem cell transplant by the time the he or she turns 20 years old.  And the number of diseases that may be treated keeps changing as research advances.

Here’s the bottom line—there are no true statistics that tell parents if cord blood banking is a worth-while gamble, because no one knows where science will be in one year or ten years. 

Some cord blood banks are now offering storage of stem cells collected from the placenta, too.  It’s hard for expectant parents to determine if this service is worth it for the additional price.  It’s true that additional stem cells can be harvested from the placenta, and this will yield about 10% more cord blood to store compared to the blood collected from the umbilical cord alone.  If cord blood is collected poorly or if the sample is very small (such as with a premature infant), this service may be valuable.

Our fifth child was born in September, and thankfully she is very healthy.  But her stem cells from her cord blood and cord tissue are now safely banked, just in case she or our family needs them.  I am so thankful that I took the time to research this issue and changed my mind.

*Editor’s note: Dr. Berchelmann was not provided any direct payment or compensation in exchange for writing this article. However,  she did accept a standard physician discount. 

Kathleen Berchelmann, M.D. About Kathleen Berchelmann, M.D.

Kathleen M. Berchelmann, M.D., is a pediatrician at St. Louis Children's Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, director of the St. Louis Children's Hospital Social Media Team, and co-founder of the ChildrensMD hospital physician blog. Her work has been featured in print and online publications including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Chicago Tribune, and TIME magazine. She is a frequent contributor to Fox2 News STL Moms. Kathleen and her husband are raising five children.

Follow Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann on Facebook: ChildrensMomDocs Twitter: @MomDocKathleen and connect with her on .

Comments

  1. Hi Dr. Berchelmann,

    I really enjoyed reading your factual post about cord blood banking. I am the Director of Marketing at Insception Lifebank, Canada’s largest Cord Blood Program. We are continuously trying to educate parents about the facts so that they can make an informed choice about cord blood banking.

    I was wondering if I could have your permission to repost your article on our blog and social media websites. We have a strong community (Facebook: 3,600 and Twitter 4,300) that would benefit from your post since there is quite a bit of confusion about the benefit of cord blood banking, and the difference between donation and family banking.

    Nicole

  2. Dear Nicole,

    Yes, you have my permission to repost this article on your blog and social media web sites provided that you include a link to the original post here at ChildrensMD.org.

    Thanks!

    Kathleen Berchelmann, MD

  3. Kellie Murphy says:

    Hello Dr.Berchelmann:

    My son (now 4 years old) was the victim of abusive head trauma / shaken baby syndrome by our daycare provider when he was just 10 months old. How I wish I had banked his cord blood— but I just didn’t realize the amazing things being done with it — and never in my worst nightmare would I had thought we would be dealing with the situation we were dealt. I have done a lot of research on treatments,etc. for TBI and even contacted Dr.Kutzberg at Duke Univ. approx 9 months after my son’s injuries regarding her trials using a child’s own cord blood in hopes of alternatives such as using a donor or other form of stem cell— but no such luck. I do continue to check http://www.clinicaltrials.gov occasionally for any possible trials using donor or other forms of stem cells. Please continue to encourage and educate parents on this topic —- as I certainly wish I had read such an article prior to 2009. And please keep us in mind if you hear of any trials or treatments using donor or other forms of stem cells for pediatric TBI.

    Thank you,
    Kellie Murphy

Speak Your Mind

*