Expectant parents (including my own children) often ask me about banking their newborn’s cord blood. They see a lot of information about “cord blood banking” in their obstetricians offices, on the internet and via comments on their social media sites.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released updated guidelines on “cord blood banking for potential future transplantations.” The AAP (as well as most professional societies in both the U.S. and Europe) is in favor of public cord blood banking systems.
There are definitely important differences between public and private cord blood banks. Public cord blood banks are nonprofits and serve the needs of the general public, while private cord blood banks are for the use of an infant or family member who may have a serious disease. Public banks do not charge parents a fee for storing cord blood, while private cord blood banks typically charge several thousand dollars for the initial banking followed by annual fees.
Accreditation of cord blood banks is extremely important, and public banks are held to better quality control than private banks. The process of collecting, processing and utilizing cord blood cells for possible transplantation to an infant or child with malignancies, metabolic disorders or immune deficiencies is arduous and should be supervised by regulatory agencies. At this point private cord banks do not all have to follow the same regulations, and there is nothing to ensure that all banks comply.
Many parents are also under the false assumption that their child’s stem cells harvested from the cord blood might be used if their child develops childhood leukemia. In fact, scientists have found that those stem cells already contain pre-malignant leukemic cells and would not prevent a reoccurrence of leukemia. In other words, those stem cells would not be used for transplantation, but rather another donor’s stem cells would be used for your child if he or she developed leukemia.
Lastly, the chance that an infant’s cord blood stem cells will be utilized for transplantation to help another child is 30 times greater in the public banking system than from a private bank.
The pediatric hematologists and oncologists (doctors who take care of children with blood diseases and malignancies) I know do not recommend private banks and have had their own children’s cord blood donated to public banks. This is also the recommendation I gave to my own children.
So if you are having a baby and are getting asked if you want to participate in cord blood banking, I would skip the private companies and donate to the public cord blood bank where your child’s stem cells might help save another child’s life.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)
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Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.