As a practicing pediatrician, I regularly participate in “grand rounds”.  This is doctor lingo for a weekly teaching conference, and grand rounds occur on a regular basis in teaching hospitals all around the country.   Recently, I attended the most interesting and informative “grand rounds” on cord blood banking. 

The topic this week was “umbilical cord blood banking: a safeguard for the future?”  I was really intrigued with the title as I have so many young couples who ask about cord blood banking and many of these couples choose to use private cord blood banks despite the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations to use public cord blood banks.  But private cord blood banks are really just great advertisers. They play to the emotions of soon to be parents as there is not a parent out there who would not do almost anything (even if expensive) to ensure the long term health of their soon to be born child! 

There are more than 150 private cord blood banks, and 40 public banks. Only 27 states have cord blood banking laws which essentially means that private cord blood banks are not regulated well.  In general, it has been found that private cord blood banks specimens have lower cell counts, the cells may not be of good quality and also have a greater risk of infection. They are often inadequate for use. There are really not that many situations in which these cells would be used at all. In fact there is about a 99.9% chance your child will never need a stem cell transplant, and typically 50% of cord blood specimens which have been stored in private banks are not usable. 

With that being said ,why would you even need a stem cell transplant? The one disease process in which autologous  (meaning your own cord blood) stem cells would be used is if your child developed acquired aplastic anemia.  The incidence of this blood disease is 3/1,000,000 per year.   The chance of being struck by lightening is 1/576,000.  

Other childhood cancers including leukemia, lymphoma etc in which a stem cell transplant may be necessary would use stem cells from acquired from peripheral blood (which is the current standard of care).  These cells may be obtained from the public banks and may be obtained by anyone who is in need of a transplant after going through a matching system. You are not limiting their availability like a private banking situation. They may be used for the “greater good” where there is a much greater likelihood that they will be needed, and stored appropriately. 

So, the “gist” of the lecture was that private cord banks are for profit. While they do a great job of advertising, and play to new parents emotions as a “once is a lifetime opportunity” their claims may be falsely inflated.  The private banks have no published data to substantiate their claims. 

Better to give cord blood to a public bank and invest the money you save from not using a private bank in your child’s education (which you will definitely need in some shape form or fashion).  This seems to benefit the most.

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.