Learn the truth behind the public v. private stem cell banking debate before you invest your hard-earned money.
Cord blood banking or stem cell banking can be a priceless investment. This is a fairly new area in medical science, and much attention is being directed towards it. However, this attention and publicity has also given rise to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. When you are considering whether to donate your child’s cord blood to a public cord blood banking system or save it at a private stem cell banking facility, it is important to know the difference between what both systems can offer you.
The Basics of Cord Blood Banking
After birth, your baby no longer needs the replenishing placenta or the umbilical cord. However, there are some extremely valuable blood cells contained within these that could act as a lifesaver for a patient who needs it or a member of your own immediate family who falls ill with certain conditions. The primary reason for this is that this blood contains enriched blood-creating stem cells. Similar to how bone marrow transplants work, these stem cells can be used to save lives by transplanting them into patients who suffer from life-threatening conditions such as leukemia.
There is almost no risk involved in harvesting these stem cells from the cord. If the baby’s cord blood is not collected and preserved for research or other medical purposes, it will be discarded. Whether you intend to donate or save the cord blood for personal purposes, it is important for you to plan ahead. Speak to your doctor as well as the hospital staff to ensure that they have a collection kit ready to collect and preserve the cord blood that is to be banked.
The cord blood can either be collected when the placenta is delivered or even before that. The general procedure involves your doctor or nurse using a small needle to draw out the remaining cord blood from the umbilical vein after the cord has been cut and clamped. This blood is then transported for stem cell banking. At the bank, the technicians separate the stem cells from the rest of the cord blood, and freeze it in liquid nitrogen. In general, you will be required to complete all registration procedures between the 28th and 34th weeks of your pregnancy.
Public v. Private Stem Cell Banking Debate
Once you decide that you want to opt for cord blood banking, you will be faced with a pertinent question: should you donate your child’s stem cells to a public bank or place it in the care of a private bank for your own family’s use? While this is largely a personal decision, here is some information that will help you understand the pros and cons of the choices.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Medical Association (AMA) weigh in on the side of public cord blood banking as compared to private. However, the bottom line is that if you do donate the cord blood to a public bank, you no longer have any claim over it, and you cannot reserve it for use by other members of your family. What public cord blood banking does is that it ensures that the stem cells are available to anyone who needs it. This is particularly good for minorities because an increased number and variety of stem cells will make it easier to find matches for ethnic minority people who need stem cells. Some of the minority groups that stand to benefit from public stem cell banking include American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, African-Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and multiracial people.
One of the biggest benefits of going the public donation way other than its altruistic purpose is that public cord blood banking is done completely free of charge. If you choose public stem cell banking, your blood will be tested for infectious diseases as well as genetic mutations and abnormalities before your request is accepted.
While the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) remains neutral about private cord blood banking, the AAP and AMA asks parents to be cautious before investing in private cord blood banking. The cost of storage and collection of stem cells by private cord blood banking companies can be high as you are required to pay a one-time processing fee as well as annual storage fees. Furthermore, research suggests that the actual chance of using the banked cord blood to treat your own child is low. You have a better chance of being able to use that cord blood for your child’s sibling or other relatives. This is because genetic disorders such as thalassemia and sickle cell disease are caused due to genetic mutations, and your child’s cord blood will carry the same genetic mutations. This is also true for other diseases like leukemia. So if you are intending to save your child’s cord blood as a type of “biological insurance”, it may not work out quite like you planned.
Statistics show that only 400 autologous cord blood transplantations have been done in the US in the last 20 years. On the other hand, more than 60,000 cord blood transplants from donors have been performed all over the world in the same time span. However, with private banking, you retain the full rights over the cord blood cells. Furthermore, most private stem blood banks do not charge a fee for retrieval of the cells for transplant purposes, whereas public cord blood banks charge thousands of dollars for every public cord blood unit (as a part of the hospital bill).
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