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Advances in Cord Blood Research

Parents-to-be are faced with what can be a tough choice -- should they bank baby’s umbilical cord blood or not? And for many, the answer might not lie in what can be done with cord blood now, but what will be done in the future.

Step into your OB’s waiting room and you’re bound to see pamphlets on private cord blood banking. It seems like just another part of prepping for baby (albeit a confusing one!). But you might be surprised to hear that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn’t recommend most families privately bank baby’s cord blood -- so who should?

Cord blood benefits now

“Those who should consider privately banking cord blood are families affected by diseases and conditions that are known to benefit from cord blood transplants,” says Mitchell S. Cairo, MD, Chief of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Stem Cell Transplantation at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York, and one of the lead authors on the AAP’s cord blood policy statement. “For example, if a sibling suffers from a condition that cord blood can benefit. Or if there’s a family history of certain genetic conditions, such as leukemia, sickle-cell anemia or thalassemia.”

The advantage to those families is the potentially life-saving stem cells that are in the umbilical cord blood -- they can be used to help treat several genetic and blood disorders as well as childhood cancers, including immune disorders. Privately banking the cord blood makes those stem cells available if they’re needed later in the child’s life. And cord blood does offer some advantages over other treatments, such as bone marrow transplants. For example, the body is less likely to reject its own stem cells than it would someone else’s bone marrow.

As for families not affected by genetic disorders, the AAP recommends public banking, which means donating baby’s cord blood to be used by anyone who might need it. If your own child develops a disease, you’d likely have easy access to donated cord blood from a public bank (whether you donated or not), says Cairo. (But don’t be mistaken, your child won’t be able to get his own cord blood if you’ve donated it.) AAP says the chances of a child needing his own, privately banked blood are unknown. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates it as one in 2,700 people or maybe even fewer.

Cord blood benefits in the future

Could this recommendation change in the future? Cairo says yes. “There is a huge investment by ourselves and other investigators to determine whether cord blood from the donor him or herself may have some regenerative capacity to heal conditions that there’s been no other therapeutic success for,” he says. “There’s definitely potential for a therapeutic benefit.” Some experts say that someday it may be used to treat more conditions such as lupus, Parkinson’s disease, brain injuries, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

Cairo says it’s unknown exactly what the advances will be and when they’ll happen. Of course, the possibility that they could occur before baby might need them may be enough to make some parents opt for private cord blood banking. If you’re one of them, be sure to do your homework. “Ask your OB what their experience is in being able to extract cord blood,” says Cairo. “Make sure the medical center has an experienced team -- you don’t want to risk having an inadequate collection. And choose an established cord blood bank. You want it to be there in 20 years.”

Plus, more from The Bump:

What Is Cord Blood Banking?

Decide Whether or Not to Bank Cord Blood

Tool: Birth Plan

-- Elena Donovan Mauer

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