It is hard to get through a new parent magazine or pregnancy magazine without reading at least one advertisement for private cord blood banking.  The magazines promise a new and exciting future of medical health where simple cells taken from the placenta and umbilical cord can cure illness lurking in your child’s future.  Cord blood is also very promising because it does not have to match a recipient’s tissue type as closely as bone marrow.  The idea that simply storing these cells could save your child’s life down the road is too amazing to ignore. 

Cord Blood samples are taken from the placenta and the attached cord AFTER the cord has been clamped and cut — samples are not taken from your baby or your baby’s belly button at any time and sampling doesn’t change the birth process at all.

We did not bank our children’s cord blood because at this time there are no Richmond area hospitals participating in PUBLIC cord blood banking.   Unlike the private cord blood banks you find advertised in the magazines, a public cord blood bank does not store your child’s individual cord sample for your use later on.   Instead, cord blood from patients who meet a stringent set of criteria  are stored in a public bank to be used whenever needed by a matching recipient.  This allows for the largest possibility of matching donors for future transplants.   Public banks greatly increase the availability of a usable cord blood sample if your child were to need it because  a disadvantage of PRIVATE cord blood banking is that for most leukemia, lymphomas and other cancers, private cord blood runs the risk of reintroducing the same line of cancer cells into the patient. 

Private cord blood banking has become a multi-million dollar industry and private banks tend to use anecdotal stories to advertise the benefits of  cord blood banking while misrepresenting facts. Private cord blood banks continue to overstate the uses of having your child’s cord blood available.  They have even hired Dr. Bob Sears to endorse CBR, the largest private cord blood bank in the United States.  CBR in their own “common misperceptions” website even argues that “thousands” of autologous [a transplant using the patient’s own stem cells] are performed every year.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Joanne Kurtzberg, MD director of the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank:

 Most pediatric transplants using cord blood require a donor cord, not their own cord blood because of contraindications to using an autologous transplant [ a transplant using the patient’s own stem cells].  [She] notes that the odds of someone using their own stored cord blood is very, very low and probably is in the range of one in 200,000.  -AAP News 2010 31:22                       

Given the facts about cord blood uses, I agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics position, which endorses the use of PUBLIC cord blood banking.  If it had been available in Richmond, I would have tried to participate without any reservations.  At this time, I do not recommend private cord blood banking unless there is an older sibling who has already been diagnosed with cancer (there is a 25% chance of siblings being a match) or specific genetic disorders in the family.   Otherwise I do not think private banking warrants the cost and think it is very unlikely to be helpful.   

For more information and to advocate for public banking in Richmond, I recommend this excellent website.