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The promising field of stem cell research is prompting more and more parents to store their newborn’s umbilical cord blood for possible use in treating future disease. Cord blood is rich in blood-forming stem cells and is currently used in transplants for some patients with leukemia, lymphoma, immune deficiencies and inherited metabolic 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.
Now, early 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 (CP), stroke, spinal cord injuries, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. (Toddler Dallas Hextell, diagnosed with CP at 8 months old, made headlines after his skills appeared to improve following an infusion of his own cord blood.) “We’re moving from depending on surgeries and pharmaceuticals to being able to harness our own cells to cure conditions,” says David Zitlow, senior vice president of public affairs at Cord Blood Registry, a private cord blood bank based in San Bruno, Calif.
However, only time will tell how stem cell research pans out and if cord blood is the best source, notes Jeffrey Ecker, M.D., an associate professor of OB-GYN at Harvard Medical School in Boston. It’s also unclear how long stored stem cells are viable.
How to choose a bank
For information on donating cord blood for use by anyone who needs it, visit marrow.org. If you’re considering private banking, do your homework:
Private or public?
Leading medical groups encourage parents to donate cord blood to one of the nation’s more than 30 public banks if possible rather than banking it privately, because they say the stem cells are more likely to be used this way. However, you cannot get your baby’s cord blood back, nor is there any guarantee of a match if the cord blood is needed later. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urges (and 21 states now require) doctors to discuss the pros and cons of private vs. public banking with patients and remains conservative, citing odds of 1 in 2,700 that privately banked blood will be used by a particular family.