Nevertheless, knowing that potentially lifesaving cells are available should a child or close family member need treatment may provide peace of mind. Since the first cord-blood transplant in 1988, the procedure has been used worldwide to treat more than 70 diseases (for a list, go to nationalcordbloodprogram.org/patients/ncbp_diseases.htm).
The one-year survival rate ranges from 40 percent to 80 percent after a transplant from an unrelated donor. However, "people who receive donations from relatives have about twice the survival rate," Weiss says. Research shows a survival rate as high as 75 percent to 90 percent after a transplant from a sibling.
While adult bone marrow can also be a source of hematopoietic stem cells, cord blood is an attractive alternative because it's immediately available and its cells are less likely to be rejected by the body, according to research.
Plus, it's easy to collect—once the umbilical cord is clamped and cut, the doctor uses a needle to drain the blood into a collection bag. Typically, a courier picks up the blood from the hospital and ships it to a facility to be analyzed and cryopreserved, or frozen. While exactly how long stored cord blood will remain viable is unknown, so far, recovery has been successful after up to 10 years.
Support for research grows
In December 2005, the U.S. Congress passed a law to establish a National Cord Blood Inventory for transplants and research. The goal is to build up 150,000 publicly available units of cord blood; donations from minorities, who typically have the hardest time finding a match among adult bone marrow donors, are especially encouraged.
There are roughly 26 accredited cord-blood banks in the U.S., including public and private. If you choose private banking, experts recommend selecting a company that's been in business for several years and is financially stable.
Like the thousands of other parents who privately bank their baby's cord blood, Blythe Stanford and her husband know the cells they stored may never be used. "But that's a gamble I'm happy to take," she says.