Cord blood: Donate it, don’t bank it

Add this to the list of things expecting couples have to deal with: heavy-handed sales pitches from companies urging private banking of cord blood. They say “It could save your baby’s life!”—How could you say no?

You’re not going to hear the whole story from these private, for-profit companies. They’ve got an estimated 1 billion dollar-a-year industry cooking, and there are things they do not want you to know:

  • It is phenomenally unlikely that your privately banked cord blood will ever be used by anyone.
  • Even if your baby ends up needing a cord blood transplant, he’ll almost certainly need someone else’s cord blood—not his own.
  • Even if by some remarkable chance you baby needs his own cord blood, many of the donated samples are not suitable for use. No tests will be done to determine this until the blood is retrieved—you may have paid thousands up front plus a substantial year fee to store, well, nothing at all.

Cord blood is the blood that’s left in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. It’s usually incinerated. However, cord blood is rich in stem cells—cells that have the potential to develop into many different body tissues. In an emerging field of research and therapeutics, cord blood has been used successfully to treat a number of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, metabolic disorders, and rare genetic syndromes. About 2000 cord blood procedures are performed each year worldwide, and that number is probably growing. Communities and non-profits are setting up public banks, similar to blood banks, for families to donate the cord blood at no cost so that other families in need can find cord blood that matches.

But competing with these public banks are private companies trying to convince parents to pay thousands to bank the cord blood only for themselves. Their web sites (and you’ll notice I’m not linking to any of them) are rife with misinformation, half-truths, and slimy marketing weasel-talk that’s designed not to help your family’s health, but to get the money out of your family’s wallet.

I’ve heard that the sales pitches are the strongest at the OB’s office—where pamphlets abound, and expectant couples are at their most vulnerable. I know that at least one of these cord blood banking companies flies the doctors to paid luxury junkets to convince them to let their sales people leave material at the practice. Just a brief positive response from the docs to their patients is money in the bank.

There is one exception: if there is a sibling or another family member who has a specific need for a cord-blood transplant, discuss the situation with a knowledgeable hematologist during the pregnancy to see if the cord blood might be useful.

Expecting couples should look into cord blood donation to a public facility. As more families donate, there will be more cord blood available both for treatments and for research. That makes a whole lot more sense to me than spending thousands to let you baby’s cord blood sit unused in a freezer.

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2 Comments on “Cord blood: Donate it, don’t bank it”

  1. Charlene Says:

    Awesome post.

    Like

  2. Sharmini Says:

    Everything you say makes sense. I’m due in 7 weeks and want to do the right thing. I guess the private company’s pitch successfully tapped into my first-time-parent-guilt (which I’m sure is just the beginning of more to come) and I am actually scared of not banking it!

    Like


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