Each week, OMRF Vice President of Research Dr. Rod McEver opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
Before my kids were born, we had to decide whether to pay for umbilical cord blood banking. We chose not to, but in the ensuing 20-plus years, I’ve continued to see ads targeted at new parents for this service. Is it worthwhile?
Dr. McEver Prescribes
The blood in a newborn’s umbilical cord contains blood-forming stem cells. The Food and Drug Administration has approved using cord blood to treat disorders like leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell disease. However, even if a child or a family member has or develops one of these illnesses, there’s no guarantee that banked blood would prove usable as a treatment.
Parents who want to bank their newborns’ cord blood must arrange to do it several weeks before their baby’s delivery. Private cord blood banking services typically charge up-front fees of hundreds to thousands of dollars, along with yearly storage fees that are usually a few hundred dollars.
If expectant parents have a close relative with a current or potential need for a stem cell transplant, such as someone with leukemia or sickle cell disease, banking cord blood could prove helpful. However, there are distinct limitations even then.
First, transplants of one’s own cord blood are ineffective against genetic disorders, as the stem cells have the genes that cause the disease. In addition, a child’s stem cells cannot be used to treat their own leukemia. And, finally, even if banked blood could theoretically prove helpful as a treatment for a given condition, there’s no guarantee it will contain enough stem cells to be usable.
Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have used cord blood to better understand lupus and the body’s immune system. Researchers elsewhere also are studying the potential of cord blood as a treatment for conditions ranging from HIV and cerebral palsy to stroke and spinal cord injury.
But unless and until we have some major breakthroughs, I’d recommend parents take the funds they would have spent on cord blood banking and put it toward something much more likely to one day help their newborn – like a college savings plan.
Do you have a health query for Dr. McEver? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your question may be answered in a future column!