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The promising field of stem cell research is prompting more parents to store their newborns’ umbilical cord blood. Cord blood is rich in blood-forming stem cells and is currently used in transplants for some patients with leukemia, lymphoma, immune deficiencies and inheritedmetabolic disorders. Most infusions come from unrelated donors, partly because of concerns that receiving one’s own defective cells may cause the same diseases to return.
Research shows that cord blood may be able to safely regenerate other types of cells in the body, fueling optimism that doctors may one day routinely use a patient’s own stored cord blood to treat such conditions as cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries and diabetes.
“There are 80 diseases that can be treated with stem cells,” says Morey Kraus, chiefscientific officer for Cambridge, Mass.-based ViaCord.
Parents can also choose to bank a child’s umbilical cord tissue. The cord contains mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which can createstructural and connective tissue. They can also be easily reproduced in a lab and don’t have to be matched as closely to the recipient as other stem cells do.
“Although I think it will take about 10 years or longer for MSCs to be commonly used in medical treatment, these cells show the most promise for treating inflammatory disease and tissue damage,” says Jeffrey M. Karp, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston and a principal faculty member of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Research on MSCs is exploding: There are more than 200 clinical trials in progress worldwide.
If you’re considering private banking, do your homework:
Ask around: Seek advice from your friends and physician.
Check credentials: How long has the bank been in business? Is it profitable? Does it have experience with successful transplants? Is it accredited by a group like the American Association of Blood Banks? Some of the bigger private banks include Cord Blood Registry, ViaCord, Cryo-Cell and LifebankUSA.
Compare costs: Collection fees typically top out at $3,000; payment plans and gift registries are available. Storage generally costs $125 to $250 a year.