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Saving Umbilical Cord Blood

Jessica Evert, MD, edited by Benjamin McDonald, MD

Stem cells are special kinds of cells that have the ability to turn into the other types of cells that make up our bodies. Stem cells have been much in the news recently, both because of their promise in developing cures for various diseases, and because of the controversy surrounding some forms of stem cell research. There are various kinds of stem cells, however, and not all of them are ethically challenged. There is controversy over the use of embryonic stem cells, originally derived from human embryos. However, there are other sources of stem cells, including from bone marrow, and also from the blood within your baby's umbilical chord. Recently, it has become possible to freeze your baby's umbilical blood stem cells for possible later use.

blood sampleCurrently, doctors use stem cells from donors to treat various diseases. For example, stem cells from bone marrow donors are used to treat certain types of cancer. Though this technique has been successful, some problems are caused when patient's immune systems attack the donor stem cells as invading foreign bodies. Should your baby develop cancer at some point during childhood, it would be very handy indeed if your baby's own stem cells were available for use as a treatment. Such stem cells would not be rejected by your child's body because they were in fact originally from your child's body.

There are several options available to you should you choose to bank (save) your baby's cord blood. One way to save cord blood is to donate it to a public cord blood bank. Public cord blood banks store donated blood and make such blood available to anyone around the country who may need it. You can also store your baby's cord blood in a private cord blood bank. For an annual fee, these private banks will save cord blood for use by the infant should they develop a disease that can be treated with stem cells. As a third option, you can also donate your baby's cord blood to be used to treat a relative's illness. For example, if one child has a disease and the parents have another child who is healthy, cord blood from the healthy child may be able to be used to treat the sick sibling.

Although there may be benefits to storing your child's cord blood, there are also several drawbacks. The process of harvesting and then maintaining your baby's cord blood in a private bank is quite expensive. Also, the likelihood that your child will get a disease that needs to be treated with cord blood cells is relatively low. Speak to your doctor about the various pros and cons regarding cord blood banking. More information about cord blood storage can be obtained from the National Marrow Donation Program.

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