If the woman carrying your unborn kid is working her way through the salad bar of physical comparisons that help you picture how big it is this week (“It’s a martini olive!” … “It’s a cantaloup!”), you can be forgiven if you’re bored — or just hungry. Really, all that you need to know is this: Your unborn baby sprang from one perfect stem cell.
Another thing to know: Stem cells are potential medical miracle workers that can be harvested from the umbilical cord and banked for use later in life. This is notable because your stem cells stay with you as you grow and help repair damage at the cellular level as you run your body through the ringer in your 20s and eat too much bacon in your in 30s. But, like you, they eventually get old, damaged, stop working, and die. Which is why you’re about to be inundated with services offering to store those good-looking ones with the new stem cell smell that your kid is born with.
Stem cells are used in therapies for everything from Crohn’s disease to leukemia and might be a central component to the personalized medicine that science fiction has been promising us for years. They’re also frequently stored by unregulated private vendors that can be spendy despite having wildly inconsistent track records when it comes to quality control.
So, should you bank your kid’s cord blood? The answer is … it depends.
You Should If You’re A Fan Of Soft-Focus Futurists Who Believe In A Disease-Free Future
Not-inconsiderable scientific minds like Dr. Robert Hariri and Peter Diamandis argue persuasively that potential therapeutic uses for stem cells from cord blood are going to cure all kinds of nasty diseases in your kid’s future. They suggest that research is promising enough that you, or your child, may very well be able to take that banked cord blood and clean your noggin of alzheimer’s… Someday… Maybe.
You Shouldn’t If You’re Not Into Uncertainty
The operative word for many who tout the future of stem cells from cord blood is “potential.” Many of the most alluring possible cures for this kind of therapy are still a very long way off. Medical realists — like the ones at the American Academy Of Pediatrics, theAmerican Medical Association, and the American Congress Of Obstetricians And Gynecologists — say you shouldn’t be expecting any kind of personalized cures for decades and that there are no guarantees the banked cells will still be viable or abundant enough to use at that point.
You Should If You Already Have A Kid Suffering From A Life-Threatening Disorder
There is little evidence to suggest that stem-cells are effective as a kind of “insurance” for the child whose cord blood will be banked privately. In fact there is only a one-in-200,000 chance it could be useful. That said, there have been indications that in certain disorders, one-year survivability after transplantation of cord blood in matched siblings can increase up to 80 percent. That means the donor kid is basically looking at a lifetime of sweet “you owe me ones”.
You Shouldn’t If You’re Paranoid
Private cord blood banks are not as strictly regulated as public cord blood banks (more on those in a minute). The Food and Drug Administration does not treat a child’s own cord blood cells as a drug. But if cord blood comes from a stranger, as it would from a public bank, it is treated like a drug and carries all the weight that term implies. So with less oversight, private banks can sometimes be lax in the way they collect and store the blood they are paid to save. There have been private bank issues, some exposed by the Wall Street Journal, that include improper handling to preserve biological material and a lack of urgency to freeze the material soon enough.
You Should If You’re Rich
Private cord blood banking sits comfortably in the realm of luxury medicine. If you can pony up for the $2,000ish processing fee and pay a couple hundo a year in storage, on top of the delivery bill from the hospital, then maybe private cord blood banking is worth your peace of mind. But for others, that might seem like a hefty chunk of change, given the currently low probability that you’d ever use the stuff.
You Shouldn’t If You’re Poor (See Above)
Or if aren’t into helping people (see below).
You Should If You’re Into Altruism
While cord blood may have a small chance of helping your child or relatives in the future, there is a much greater chance it could help a stranger. There are approved therapies where stem cells from cord blood have been shown to be effective. In public blood banks, your kid’s cord blood could be a match for a stranger and potentially prolong or save a life. In fact, it’s easier to find matching cord blood than it is to find matching bone marrow.
So, In Summary …
If you’re an eternal (and wealthy) optimist, bank your kid’s cord blood. If you’re a kind-hearted do-gooder, give your kid’s cord blood to a public bank. If you’re a skeptical scrooge, just leave the stuff in the delivery room.