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Expert Q&A

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Should I bank my baby's umbilical cord blood?

Asked by EL, California

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I am seven months pregnant and am wondering if I should invest in cord blood banking when my baby is born.

Expert Bio Picture

Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

This is a great question, but one that at this point does not have a straightforward answer. In short, some people believe you should bank cord blood if you desire and can afford it. Others feel that research is still in its early stages and that saving blood for future use by your baby is not cost effective or likely to be useful. I'll mention some considerations here and hope other families, as well as medical experts, will weigh in with their experiences.

Cord blood banking involves removing some blood from the vessels of the umbilical cord and then storing them for possible future use. Cord blood contains stem cells, which are unspecialized precursor cells that can be stimulated to become specialized cells such as those found in blood, muscle or other tissues of the body. Healthy stem cells may be used to replace diseased cells in conditions such as leukemia, bone marrow disorders or severe immune system problems.

It is estimated that about one child in every 1,000 to 200,000 (yes, this is a large range, but the studies differ) may have a future illness that could benefit from having his or her own cord blood saved. Families choosing to bank cord blood may find this procedure to provide some peace of mind, much like having an insurance plan where you pay for a service that may or may not ever be needed.

One situation where cord blood collection is an excellent option is if there is an older sibling or other family member known to have a disease that could be treated with stem cells. Another thought might be to have the cord blood collected and then placed into a public registry (somewhat like donating blood to a public bank). At this time, someone other than your own child may benefit more from the stem cells. It may also be possible to get the cord blood back from the bank should your child need it himself in the future.

It is clear that the use of stem cells shows great promise in treating medical conditions and that more research needs to be done. In the meantime, the bottom line is that private cord blood banking is currently best used if there is a sibling known to have a disorder that can be treated with stem cells; otherwise, public banking is encouraged.

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