Private cord blood banking: Don’t be a sucker

The Pediatric Insider

© 2014 Roy Benaroch, MD

 [A baby-proofing saleswoman arrives at the Simpsons’ house]

Saleswoman: Your baby is dead!

Homer and Marge: [screams]

Saleswoman: That’s what you’d hear if your baby fell victim to the thousands of deathtraps lurking in the average American home.

Homer: You really scared us there.

Saleswoman: I’m sorry, but the truth is, your baby, Maggie Simpson, is dead. [Homer and Marge scream again] Dead tired of baby insurance agents not giving you a free estimate.

 

When the sales pitch is based on irrational fear, you probably shouldn’t buy. But that’s exactly what private cord blood companies are pushing. They’ve got a product that by any rational thinking they couldn’t possibly sell.

Yet sell they do. I’m not going to link to any of their sites, but they rely very heavily on vague anecdotes and tear-jerky catchphrases. “A precious gift for your precious one”. Please. Who could refuse that?

Cord blood has promise, but the studies supporting its clinical use are in their infancy. Touted benefits for common conditions like autism or cerebral palsy aren’t backed up by evidence. Clinical trials are underway, but their results have, so far, not been impressive. Stronger evidence is emerging for other sources of stem cells, especially those harvested from adult volunteers. (It turns out that cord blood has many limitations—the number of stem cells from a cord blood donation is much smaller than what can be obtained from an adult bone marrow donor.) There are no reliable numbers to show just how often privately banked cord blood has been used—but there are plenty of stories of poor storage and contamination that’s made the cord blood worthless. And we know that the marketing of this “service” has relied on anecdotes and testimonials that have not turned out to be quite as rosy as they appear.

What you should do with cord blood: donate to a public bank, or donate it for legitimate research. It might genuinely end up helping someone. Don’t let fear and misleading marketing guide your decisions, and don’t waste your money on the multibillion dollar scam of private cord blood banking.

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3 Comments on “Private cord blood banking: Don’t be a sucker”

  1. Francesca Says:

    I work with Americord and would like to respond to some of the claims in this post.

    Firstly, although there have been claims that stem cells can treat diseases like autism and cerebral palsy, these are not the main uses for cord blood stem cells. Cord blood stem cells have already successfully been used to help create new blood cells after they have been destroyed by harsh treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Families with a history of leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma should seriously consider banking cord blood, as those stem cells can be vital to the recovery process.

    Secondly, it is true that cord blood contains only enough stem cells to treat a small child, up to about 65 lbs. However, Americord Registry has developed a proprietary process called CordAdvantage that allows medical professionals to collect up to 2x the amount of stem cells. This would presumably be enough stem cells to treat an adult!

    It is true that private cord blood banking isn’t right for everyone, but it is not true that private cord blood banking is for “suckers”. Banking your baby’s stem cells could provide your family with extra treatment options, should a member get sick. For a mother-to-be who knows her family is prone to diseases treatable by cord blood, it only makes sense to use private cord blood banking to provide all possible treatments.

    More information on the proprietary method, CordAdvantage, can be found here:
    http://cordadvantage.com/cordadvantage

    Like

  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    To be clear, Francesca appears to work for Cordadvantage or Americord, or at least has an email address at their domain.

    Her comments speak only to what’s in software called “vaporware”– ideas that are not yet actualities. Stem cells “can be” vital to the recovery process– though stem cells collected from cord blood are not routinely or often used. Their proprietary “CordAdvantage” process for extracting more stem cells would “presumably” help provide enough stem cells to “treat an adult”, though in actual practice that has not occurred. Look carefully for those marketing weasel-words at their website.

    “Stem cells” is an exciting phrase that people have heard. But stem cells used in practice are being harvested from bone marrow from adult donors, not from placentas. Mixing up these kinds of stem cells and their potential health benefits is a marketing technique.

    I stand by my statement. Private cord banking is for suckers.

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  3. Hi Dr. Roy. Great response. You are correct. We have not yet launched CordAdvantage, and Francesca does represent us. It isn’t vaporware however. Our data was recently published by Dr. Robert Dracker at the American Academy of Pediatric Oncology. Dr. Dracker is leading pediatric expert and is on the FDA’s Pediatric Advisory Panel. Although it is not quite ready for commercialization, we have demonstrated that we collect on average 60% more than the industry average in terms of stem cells.
    http://cordadvantage.com/cord-blood-blogs/2014/06/06/can-get-cord-blood-stem-cells-americord/

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