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Should you save your baby's umbilical cord blood?


Umbilical Cord Blood Uses
Cord blood specialist Dr. John Wagner holds baby Adam Nash on Oct. 17, 2000. Adam's cord blood was transplanted to his sister Molly (left), which cured her Fanconi anemia.
Cord blood specialist Dr. John Wagner holds baby Adam Nash on Oct. 17, 2000. Adam's cord blood was transplanted to his sister Molly (left), which cured her Fanconi anemia.
Mark Engebretson for the University of Minnesota/Getty Images

In the first section, we talked about how similar CBE stem cells are to embryonic stem cells. However, they aren't the same thing as embryonic stem cells. CBE stem cells have even more potential for use than stem cells taken from adult bone marrow because a perfect match between the donor and the recipient isn't necessary.

So how likely it is that your child would need to use his or her cord blood? What about using any cord blood? The numbers vary widely. According to a recent article in the medical journal "Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation," the likelihood that a person would need an autologous CBE transplant (his or her own cells) during his or her lifetime is about 1 in 435, and the likelihood that he or she would need an allogeneic CBE transplant (cells from a donor, either a relative or stranger) is 1 in 400. But other studies have put both the odds of needing an autologous or an allogeneic transplant at anywhere from 1 in 2,000 to 1 in 200,000, depending on whether the family has a history of a disease that's treatable with CBE stem calls. In short, researchers can't yet be sure, because CBE stem cell transplantation is still experimental.

Since 1988, there have been several successful allogeneic CBE transplants between siblings. However, even stem cells between siblings only have a 25 percent chance of being a match. In addition, according to the National Marrow Donor Program, only about half of the donations to public banks are suitable for storage. In some cases, the cord blood isn't stored because it doesn't contain enough stem cells. Adults can't usually receive cord blood transplants because there aren't enough stem cells for a person who weighs more than 100 pounds.

Some parents mistakenly believe that their child could be treated with his or her own cord blood if he or she contracts leukemia later on. But leukemic cells are present at birth, so the cord blood would be tainted. The same goes for many other disorders. Currently, researchers don't have uses for autologous CBE stem cell transplants. There have been several allogeneic uses of CBE stem cells for leukemia and other cancers, as well as immune disorders. They have also been used to treat conditions such as Type 1 diabetes.

Groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics advise parents to donate their baby's cord blood to public banks, citing the current statistics. Some physicians suggest privately banking a baby's cord blood only if the family has a history of a CBE-stem-cell-treatable disease. But many private banks and cord-blood banking advocates say that private banking is worth it, because we can't yet know how CBE stem cells will be used in the future.

Should you save your baby's cord blood? Right now, the answer looks to be yes ... but in public banks so that everyone can benefit from its potential use.

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