Last year I received a message from a member of the Creating a Family Facebook Group who was finally pregnant after 3 long years of infertility. She had learned everything there was to know about in vitro fertilization (IVF), and could discuss the relative merits of fresh cycles vs. frozen embryo transfer and day 3 vs. day 5 transfer with aplomb. Once her long journey trying to conceive was over, she turned her attention to learning everything she could about growing a healthy baby. As her due date neared she was ready to turn her attention to the birth itself. She asked if we would do a Creating a Family show on umbilical cord blood banking. I added it to our list of potential topics, but honestly put it on the back burner because I didn’t think that it would support an hour show. I mean, how much can you talk about banking umbilical cord blood.
Serendipity intervened, as it often does, and the guest experts basically fell into my lap. I took this as a sign that we should go ahead with this topic. I still had reservations, but boy, oh boy, was I wrong. Our guest experts were Dr. Roni Bollag, PhD, MD, board-certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology and specialty certified in Transfusion Medicine/Blood Banking; and Dr. James Carroll, Chief of Child Neurology at Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia Children’s Hospital and lead researcher on use of blood cord stem cells to treat cerebral palsy and brain injury.
What’s the Big Deal about the Umbilical Cord?
Most of us learned in Biology 101 that the umbilical cord was the fetus’s lifeline. The umbilical cord is also an incredibly rich sources of stem cells that may well rival embryonic stem cells in their usefulness to treat diseases. The stem cells in cord blood can grow into blood and immune system cells, as well as other types of cells. The subsurface substance of the umbilical cord, called Wharton’s Jelly, may be an even better source of stem cells. Research into the stem cell potential of the placenta as a source of valuable stem cells looks promising as well.
The cord blood cells are primarily being studied for use to treat blood diseases, such as blood cancers, while the stem cells in the Wharton’s Jelly can be used to regenerate and treat diseases of other organs. And it is not just cancer that can be treated. Research is ongoing into using stem cells from cord blood, Wharton’s Jelly, and the placenta for treating a host of conditions, such as cerebral palsy, brain injury, diabetes, and even autism. Our experts stressed that this research is only in its infancy and not ready for prime time.
Why Not Automatically Bank Your Baby’s Cord Blood
So why doesn’t everyone jump on the cord blood banking band wagon— primarily cost balanced against the likelihood of being able to use it for your child or family. We talked about the cost benefit analysis for banking your baby’s cord blood or Wharton’s Jelly. You pay an initial cost and then yearly banking fee. The amount of blood that is available is only enough to treat a small child, and the likelihood that your child will develop a disease that could be treated with stem cells from this cord blood is pretty small. It may someday be possible to create your own family stem cell line that can be used by all members of your family for different purposes, but currently that is a technological and financial stretch. Another option, of course is to donate the cord blood to a public bank for use by the general public. Donating to a public bank is free and the more people who donate, the greater the possibility of finding a good match when in need.
I learned so much. If you’re considering banking your baby’s cord blood, or if you’re a science, health, trivia geek, like me, I strongly recommend listening or downloading this show. For more information, check out this great website Parents Guide to Cord Blood.
Questions on Cord Blood Banking addressed by our experts:
1. What “material” in the umbilical cord has use to treat disease?
2. Does the placenta have tissue, blood, or other “material” that can be of use and should it be saved?
3. What diseases can cord blood or Wharton’s Jelly be used to treat?
4. What is the potential for cord blood or Wharton’s Jelly to treat autism, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, and cerebral palsy?
5. Can other family members potentially benefit?
6. Should cord blood be banked privately or publicly?
7. How much does it cost?
8. And so much more.