Cord blood banking sounds like the subtitle of the 10-year reunion sequel of Twilight. Where in this sequel of the vamp-pop mega hit, thirty-something Bella (Kristen Stewart) considers banking her cord blood in the event a wolf attack (obvi) should ever threaten the life of her baby. Realistically, the only attack Kristen Stewart needs to worry about is a wolf pack of fans cornering her to get some pics for their Instas. But what about for non-K Stewart babies with no real known risk of a wolf attack? Is cord blood banking something we should be considering for our little ones? In a word, maybe…
In recent years, there has been much debate on private cord blood banking by hopefuls and skeptics alike. Cord blood, a hot area of medical research since the 1980s, has produced some very promising medical advances. Like, literally curing cancer. Cool right?! Once considered nothing more than medical waste, cord blood is now being touted for its rich source of promising stem cells. Most recent medical advances using cord blood have included successful transplants and treatments for more than 80 diseases.
With high health stakes and common knowledge on the necessity of donor matching, it’s easy to understand why so many parents are taking the measures and expenses to privately store their own cord blood. However private cord blood banks are using very questionable presentations of facts in an attempt to make more bank themselves, leaving many users seeing red.
According to the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, a baby has a less than 0.04% to 0.001% of benefitting from their own cord blood. Not facts private banks are leading with. One of the main reasons persons with stored cord blood may never use it, even in the event of an illness, is many of the illness and conditions that require stem cell transplantation are genetic in nature – think sickle cell anemia. In these instances, transplantation must come from a donor and not from the person’s own cells, as utilizing a person’s own genetic material would be implanting more of the disease. The shocking truth is that most cord blood specimens sitting in banks are probably unusable. According to Mary Halet of the National Marrow donor Program, 75% of specimens in public banks are discarded due to an insufficient number of cells for transplant, which means you could end up paying to store something for years that may in fact be no good when you need to use it. Way!
Much of the exaggerated promise of banked cord blood is a result of creative marketing pitches private banks are using to make emotional appeals to families. Many of them involve promissory notes for future advancements that have yet to materialize. Sure there may one day be an application for stem cells in Alzheimer’s, but banking on the promise there “might” is a big gamble. Kylie Jenner might also release one lip colour someday that matches all skin tones perfectly, but I’m not about to buy shares based on the hope the youngest Jenner could solve the beauty industry woes.
Private blood banking clinic like Viacord are attracting droves of gambling parents by placing statements like, “Research is underway with the hope that cord blood stem cells may prove beneficial in young patients facing life-changing medical conditions once thought untreatable.” But they aren’t putting their money on the table with these promises, just yours. With a quick scroll, a much smaller print disclaimer appears at the bottom of their page: “Banking cord blood does not guarantee that treatment will work and only a doctor can determine when it can be used. Cord tissue stem cells are not approved for use in treatment, but research is ongoing.”
Hmmmm odds aren’t so promising in the fine print.
Exactly what is motivating private banks to get so “creative” with their marketing? What motivates anyone? Money, music video booty, tacos, public good and naps. Well, it’s not public good as anyone can donate their cord blood for free for gen pop use. So that leaves Booty, Pizza, Naps and ‘Young Moulah Baby’ as Little Wayne calls it. Like any insurance policy, cord blood banking comes with some sizeable premiums. Exactly how much are we talking? In Canada, registration, cord blood processing, medical testing, shipping, and first year storage will run you about $1100. With subsequent annual storage $125 per year. In the US, the first year processing costs can be anywhere up to $3000 depending on the clinic, with annual storage fees up to $200. If you factor in these fees, Frances Verter, founder of the nonprofit Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, estimates that 5% percent of parents now bank their baby’s cord blood. Thus, we can appreciate the sizeable motivator dollars are in the cord blood industry.
So should you bank or keep your money in the bank?
Organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the ASBMT, and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have issued statements and opinions on cord blood banking. They all seem to agree on public bank donation over private banking as cord blood has limited personal applications, but many more applications when widened to the general population. The one exception we found in terms of recommendations from the medical community on cord blood banking was in the case of having a biological relative with a diagnosed stem cell treatable disease. In this instance, there is a good chance a child’s cord blood could be of benefit to them and would warrant private cord blood banking in the opinion of the AAP.
When it comes to deciding about whether to store cord blood or not, it’s easy to get caught up in parental guilt – especially when the timing of this decision tends to be made while expecting when emotions and hormones could be running high. It’s important to not get caught up in all the hype and feel some obligation to do something that might not be right for your family. We recommend taking a step back and doing your research so you can make the best informed decision for your family and feel confident about it. There is no right or wrong answer, and no way to predict the future. For this reason, we say trust your gut first over the promise of the cord.
N.B. Private banks like the Cord Blood Registry, Cryo-Cell, and ViaCord offer free cord blood banking if you have a relative that needs stem cells at the time of the babies birth.
Featured Image: Jillian Babbel Mendioro | @jillianbabbel
Image 1: Raw Pixel | Unsplash