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Cord Blood Banking Becoming the Popular Choice

By Louise Daly, iAfrica, May 8, 2007

As a soon to be young mother, Kimberly did not have to think when her obstetrician recommended that she consider banking the blood from her new born baby’s umbilical cord. It didn’t take any convincing for her to agree.

"It was like a lightbulb went off," said Kimberly.

She decided to go for the “biological insurance” and banked her son’s stem-cell rich cord blood. Kimberly was already well versed in the potential of cord blood since the 32-year-old had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a year earlier.

"It gave me a sense of security about my children's future health," said the young mother from Satellite Beach, Florida.

Using her own resources, Kimberly decided to store her cord blood with a private U.S. facility. The choice is becoming more popular each year since private storage guarantees that the cord blood will be saved only for the individual’s family and not available to the public as is the case with public cord blood banks. If an unpredicted medical emergency develops, the blood stored in a private bank will be ready for use.

Kimberly’s multiple sclerosis is a chronic and incurable neurological disease. She hopes her children never need to use the blood, and that perhaps she could treat her multiple sclerosis with the stem cells derived from it.

The stem cell count in cord blood is very high; they can replicate in the body many times and also differentiate into other types of tissue.

Many blood disorders and cancers, and over 70 other diseases have been treated using cord blood stem cells over the past decade. But many of the headlines are being created by the stem cell’s potential contribution to the field of regenerative medicine.

In order to treat diabetes, stroke, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord and brain injures; scientists are studying how to grow new tissues by using these cells.

And the thousands of dollars individuals spend in order to preserve a child’s cord blood is being pushed by the promise of future treatment which will inevitably use stem cells.

"Our clients understand that it is a powerful medical resource that they can bank for future and emerging uses," said Stephen Grant, executive vice president of Cord Blood Registry, one of about 20 private US blood-banking operations.

Last month, Spain's Princess Letizia and her husband, Crown Prince Felipe de Bourbon, revealed they too had stored the umbilical cords of their two small daughters at a Tucson-based registry.

"It's something we have great confidence in and believe in. I think science and medicine are moving forward by leaps and bounds in this field and we have kept abreast of it," the prince told Spanish media.

Saving a child’s genetically distinct stem cells is a once in a lifetime opportunity according to industry officials, even though the bulk of stem cell therapies are only beginning to pick up steam.

The cells may offer treatments for illnesses that are at present incurable, and could save the life of the child or a sibling in the future.

"That promise is rational. It's real, but when it will happen is purely speculation. It won't be in the next few years," said Charles Sims, chairperson of the Association of Family Cord Blood Banks, representing eight US private cord-blood banks.

But falling back on public cord blood banks in the event of a medical crisis and saving money is a better idea say some advocates of public cord blood storage. A situation where private storage would be advisable is if the couple has another child who has a malignancy or genetic illness.

"I would advise parents to spend the money on a stroller or car seat," said Dr. Bert Lubin, the American Pediatric Association's spokesperson on cord blood banking.

The AMA argues that the odds of a child ever requiring a stem-cell transplant are slim in addition to declaring that stem cell therapies for regenerative medicine are to this day unproven.

The likelihood of a child needing a stem cell transplant ranges from one in 1000 to one in 200,000 according to the AMA.

According to another estimate, the figure would be closer to one in 2700 when factoring in the chance that the cells are a good enough match to help another family member.

"The major reason why it's a big profit industry is that the majority of the units banked — 99 percent of them — have not been used," said Lubin, an expert on cord blood transplants from Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, California.

Cord blood banking costs the client $100-$150 dollars each year for storage fees. An initial $1000 to $2000 dollar processing fee is generally required as well.

But more Americans are taking advantage of the option everyday. It is slowly but surely becoming a normal part of the process of have a new born child. The number of unique blood samples banked is growing at a rate of 15 to25 percent each year with an estimated half million samples already banked over the past decade according to industry officials.

It is the well-educated and wealthy that make up the greater part of those opting for cord blood storage. A company official for Cord Blood Registry said that forty percent of live births in California’s super rich Beverly Hills make up their new business.

But storage has not been restricted to only those with money to spare.

Kimberly had to pay $1600 to bank her son Grant’s cord blood at a facility in Tucson, Arizona. Her family income is less than $100,000 a year and she has four children under the age of 10.

But "it's just good sense to be prepared," she said. "If I could go back and bank the blood of my other three kids, I would do it in a heartbeat."


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