Disadvantages of Umbilical Cord Blood Banking

By Kathryn Rateliff Barr
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Many expectant parents receive information about cord blood banking through their doctors' offices, parenting magazines and childbirth education classes. The information usually comes from for-profit private cord blood banks and may not provide parents with accurate information regarding the likelihood that the cord blood will be needed by the donor or other close family members or possible disadvantages of using cord blood rather than other sources of stem cells.

Genetic Insurance Needed or Not

Many couples hear that cord blood banking can provide insurance for the child should she ever fall ill with a disease that can be treated with stem cell transplants. The likelihood that your child will ever need his banked cord blood is small, according to the “Journal of Perinatal Education.” Although sources don’t always agree on the chances your child might need cord blood stem cells, estimates range from one in 400 to one in 200,000. With an initial cost ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 and annual storage costs of $100 to $200, that’s an expensive insurance policy that might only be good for 10 to 15 years before the cells are no longer usable.

Small Numbers of Cells

The amount of blood extracted from the umbilical cord, ranging from 50 to 200 milliliters, is relatively small compared to the number of stem cells removed from an adult bone marrow donor -- approximately 10 percent less. Any amount less than 50 milliliters is automatically discarded as too few to bank. Although fewer stem cells are needed when umbilical cord blood is used, most adults needing a transplant need more blood than is salvaged from the umbilical cord. Additionally, all of the available stem cells are transplanted, so, if engraftment doesn’t occur, there is no option to receive a second donation from the same donor.

Using the Stem Cells

A small number of diseases can be treated with cord blood -- cancers, such as leukemia and lymphomas; nonmalignant blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia and Fanconi’s anemia; a few congenital metabolic disorders, such as adrenoleukodystrophy; and immunodeficiencies, such as Duncan’s disease or adenosine deaminase deficiency. If the child’s disease is genetic, the cord blood from the child will probably not be used in treatment because it carries the same genetic makeup, and siblings require a different donor approximately 75 percent of the time, according to WebMD.

Public or Private Banking

Most cord blood companies encourage families to privately bank cord blood for future family use and do not accept donated cord blood. Professional medical groups, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, recommend private banking only when a close family member has a disease treatable with stem cells. They do not believe cord blood banking is wrong but instead recommend the families donate the cells to a public bank where they are more likely to be used. When families can't find a relatively local public bank, they must either pay to bank the cells or allow them to be disposed of as medical waste.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.