Private cord blood banking: Don’t be a sucker
© 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.