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Should You Store or Donate Your Child’s Umbilical Cord Blood?

The growing field of stem cell medicine has many expecting families excited about the future. With established effective treatments and consistent news coverage of promising new treatments, it’s no surprise that parents are asking if they should store or donate their child’s umbilical cord blood. The right answer to that question can vary for individual families, but first, let’s take a closer look at the state of stem cell medicine

Why do families bank cord blood stem cells?

The hematopoietic stem cells in the blood that remains in the umbilical cord blood after it is clamped are the same kind of stem cells that make bone marrow such a powerful treatment tool for physicians. These stem cells are FDA-approved to treat close to 100 conditions, including leukemias, lymphomas, and anemias. 

These same stem cells are also the focus of clinical trials seeking treatments and therapies for many other conditions. Some of the most exciting trials are focused upon therapies for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The trials, the most notable of which are underway at Duke University, have proven to be safe and are seeking to relieve or lessen impacts of autism to a degree that conventional behavioral methods of treatment cannot achieve. 

Aside from the Duke ASD trials, there are many others to be excited about. Conditions including cerebral palsy, diabetes, and autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are all being targeted for new treatments in the advanced clinical trial phase. While there are of course no guarantees that trials will yield effective treatments, the future of stem cell medicine has never looked brighter. 

And the stem cells are not necessarily just a match for the baby whose cord blood they come from – they can also be a match for siblings. Banking for one child could potentially help another, particularly as some conditions that can be treated with these stem cells are genetically linked and cannot be treated with the affected child’s own cells. 

Are cord blood stem cells better than bone marrow stem cells?

Cord blood stem cells have advantages over bone marrow-derived stem cells, the first being that they can be safely, painlessly collected at birth. Obtaining bone marrow from a donor requires general anesthesia and an invasive procedure. 

More importantly, properly matched cord blood stem cells pose a much lower risk of potentially fatal graft-versus-host disease, where the donated cells attack the recipients body. 

Because of these advantages, cord blood stem cells are incredibly valuable. But, that again raises the question of whether parents should store their newborn’s cord blood stem cells, or if they should donate umbilical cord blood stem cells to a public bank instead. 

What should I know about donating cord blood stem cells?

Donating cord blood stem cells is free and anyone in need who matches can obtain the cells in the future. However, it is not free for a match to withdraw these stem cells from a public cord blood bank. In fact, costs can exceed $50,000. 

We encourage families to keep this potential cost in mind while they make their decision, as acquiring stem cells in the future is dependent upon first finding a match, and then making arrangements to actually acquire the cells. 

Donating also comes with the substantial risk that the stem cells will be wasted – nearly 70% of donations are discarded because, to keep operating costs low, public banks only process donations that are above average in volume. 

Many families still ask us how to donate cord blood. There is not one answer, but in general, public cord blood banks cooperate with hospitals to arrange the necessary logistics for donation. You OB/GYN may have information that may be helpful as well. 

Making your decision

We know no one wants to think about their child falling ill. But, as more conditions, ranging from potentially life-threatening to potentially life-altering, can be treated with these stem cells, the odds your family encounters a condition that can be treated with hematopoietic stem cells increases. 30 years ago, no one considered storing these stem cells because they were not being used for treatment. Now there are treatments for close to 100 conditions and advanced clinical trials are showing promise for many more. It is entirely possible that the landscape of stem cell medicine looks vastly different 10 years into the future, let alone 30. 

At the end of the day, cord blood stem cells are an incredibly valuable resource. We think that every family has ample reason to consider private cord blood banking now, particularly if there is a family history of certain medical conditions. It is likely that there will only be more reasons to privately store these valuable stem cells in the future. But, any family that opts out of private storage, for whatever reason, should consider attempting a cord blood donation instead of guaranteeing that it becomes medical waste as all signs point towards the cells only becoming more valuable.

Americord is committed to helping people live healthier, longer lives. If you have any questions about cord blood banking, the science, or what makes Americord different, give us a call!

The views, statements, and pricing expressed are deemed reliable as of the published date. Articles may not reflect current pricing, offerings, or recent innovations.