Cord blood banking is an option available to most any parent after the birth of their child. There are proven benefits to the stem cells you can easily collect and store through the birthing process, although this is generally not common knowledge. While the cost of storing cord blood can often be more than parents want to pay, it might be a good idea to know what your options are before you decide.
This article will provide you with answers to some of the key questions about cord blood banking and stem cells in general. Read ahead to better understand why you might want to consider cord blood banking.
Questions addressed in this article:
- What Are Stem Cells?
- What Is Cord Blood?
- What Is Cord Blood Banking?
- What Are The Benefits Of Cord Blood Banking?
- Where Can You Store Cord Blood?
- How Much Money Does Cord Blood Banking Cost?
- Why Does Cord Blood Banking Cost So Much?
- Should You Bank Cord Blood?
What Are Stem Cells?
Before you can fully understand cord blood, you must first have a grasp on stem cells. Stem cells have been a controversial buzzword for quite a while, but the reality behind them is not often understood. The science of stem cells, their acquisition, and the benefits they provide, is at least worth understanding.
Stem cells are an especially useful type of cell found in the human body. Unlike most other types of cells that can only ever be one type of cell, stem cells are capable of developing into many types of cells. When introduced into the body, stem cells divide and can either remain a stem cell or change into a more specific, needed cell. For example, a stem cell can be introduced into the body, and depending on what is needed and where it is placed, it will divide and become a red blood cell, a muscle cell, or even a brain cell.
Because they are also able to replenish other cells, they are very useful for internal repairs. Stem cells can also be introduced to the body to help treat diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. They are also more frequently being used to regrow muscle tissue to heal physical injury and speed recovery processes. Other diseases and injuries that stem cells may potentially help cure or alleviate include:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Lung Diseases
- Lou Gehrig’s Disease
- Spinal Cord Injuries
- Organ Failures
- Heart Diseases
The science behind stem cells is continually increasing, and each year brings new understanding of stem cell potential. New understanding brings further application and more ways to acquire stem cells. Cord blood is a great example of a relatively easy way to acquire valuable stem cells.
What Is Cord Blood?
Cord blood, while very common, is only available at a very specific moment. It is the blood found in the umbilical cord of a newborn child. Physicians can easily collect this blood by draining it from the umbilical cord just after the baby is born.
Cord blood is full of vital cell types, one of which is hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). HSCs are known as blood progenitor cells, which means they are capable of dividing to create other blood cells. This type of stem cell is valuable because it can be used to treat a wide variety of diseases, including anemia and lymphoma.
Umbilical Cord Tissue
Another valuable part of the umbilical cord that can also be collected is the tissue of the cord. “Wharton’s Jelly” is the primary component of umbilical cord tissue. It is a gelatinous substance rich in mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Different than HSCs found in the cord blood, research suggests that MSCs may potentially be valuable in treating bone and cartilage diseases.
MSCs make up the many different cells within skeletal tissues, and can, therefore, be used to grow needed specialized cells when introduced to the body. However, there may also be other potential applications for MSCs. Some research has shown that MSCs may also be used to create cells such as liver cells, heart muscle cells, nerve cells, and possibly many other cell types.
What Is Cord Blood Banking?
Cord blood banking is exactly what it sounds like. Once the physician collects the cord blood from the umbilical cord after birth, you can then store it in either a public or private banking facility.
Private cord blood banks will cost money, but it can be stored there until you need it. Public banking facilities will take the cord blood from you for free, and it will be stored there for use by the general population.
In addition to cord blood, some banks will store umbilical cord tissue. Although, not all banks will store the latter.
What are the Benefits of Cord Blood Banking?
Like it has been addressed above, the potential benefits stem cells offer is significant. The stem cells found within cord blood are known to treat more than 80 different diseases. Stem cells are a necessary part of many practices within regenerative medicine. Since there are many parts of the body not capable of regenerating on their own, stem cells provide a medical answer to ailments, diseases, and injuries that no other form of medicine may treat.
Once stored, you can access the stem cells later on for your child (either as an infant or even much later on in life). The cord blood may also be used by the child’s relatives. There is a much higher chance of finding a match for transplants and transfusions within stem cells that are part of the family bloodline.
Blood Type Match
And so, having available access to stem cells from your child’s cord blood may be the difference between having a match and not having a match in critical situations later in life. In this sense, cord blood banking is a sort of insurance. While it might cost money and may seem an unnecessary action at the time, it may pay off later in life.
A common example of stem cell use is with cancer treatment. If your child is diagnosed with cancer later in life, there is a chance that they will have to undergo radiation to fight the cancer. The downside to radiation treatment is that healthy cells may also be damaged. And, in some cases, this damage is potentially irreversible and deadly. But, with access to their own stem cells from the cord blood bank, those damaged healthy cells may be regenerated.
Cancer treatment also introduces another valuable aspect of cord blood banking, specifically. If your child has to go through chemotherapy to fight cancer and has to use stem cells from their body to repopulate damaged cells due to the radiation, they run the risk of reintroducing cancerous cells back into their body.
However, if your child’s cord blood has been stored in a cord blood bank, those stem cells can be used to repopulate your child’s damaged cells. Because the stem cells came from long before the cancer was present, there is no risk of reintroducing the cancer back into your body. This is a major benefit of storing cord blood — it will always be a clean source of stem cells.
There is another potential risk that is avoided when using stem cells that have been stored in a cord blood bank. Graft-versus-host disease occurs when a stem cell transplant is perceived by the body as a foreign invasion. When the body sees stem cells as foreign invaders, it fights against them instead of with them.
When stem cells gathered from the cord blood are stored in a cord blood bank, there is no chance that the body will see its own stem cells as foreign invaders. The body is also much less likely to see a family member’s stem cells as foreign invaders. And so, in both cases, the body can focus on fighting the disease rather than fighting the stem cell transplant.
The benefits that stem cells possess include much more than what is already understood. The ongoing research is pointing toward a massive increase in understanding and application of stem cells. While they may not be completely understood today, what they can be used for even within the next few years may increase at surprising rates.
Where Can You Store Cord Blood?
There are two types of cord blood banks: public and private. Depending on what you are wanting to accomplish, both are viable options.
If you want private access to your child’s cord blood and the stem cells found within, a private cord blood bank is the option for you. This option will ensure that you and your child will always have access to the benefits detailed above in previous sections.
The other option, a public blood bank, is the choice to make if you want to provide a public service. By offering your child’s cord blood to a private blood bank, you are giving strangers access to a resource that may very well save their lives. This is an incredibly valuable gift to give, especially since stem cells are still relatively rare.
Also, note that not all blood banks will store umbilical cord tissue. If you choose to collect and store the tissue, your options on where to store it may be limited.
Additionally, it is possible to bank cord blood from a home birth. If you are planning on giving birth at home, you still have the option to store your child’s cord blood.
How Much Money Does Cord Blood Banking Cost?
One of the reasons parents choose not to go through with blood cord collection is due to the cost. The initial cost of cord blood collection and the subsequent processing is generally between $1,500 and $2,000 in the United States. This cost generally doubles if you also choose to collect umbilical cord tissue.
To gauge how much you should expect to pay, here is an example. It costs $1,500 for cord blood collection and processing at the Cord Blood Registry, which is the largest cord blood bank in the United States. They charge $2,795 if you choose to collect and process both cord blood and umbilical cord tissue.
Additionally, the average cost for cord blood storage is around $150 per year. So, storing blood for 25 years will take, on average, around $3,750. If you choose to store both cord blood and umbilical cord tissue, it will cost an average of $300 per year.
Below is a quick breakdown of average overall costs, covering both the collection, the processing, and 25 years of storage in a cord blood bank:
- Just Cord Blood: ($1,500 + $3,750 = $5,250)
- Cord Blood and Umbilical Cord Tissue: ($3,000 + $7,500 = $10,500)
The costs for collection, processing, and storage are different depending on what country you are in. For the United States, the yearly cost is around two percent of a household’s annual income (based on the top 10 percent of American households). For the same services, Latin America averages eight percent of annual household income, and the cost increases to 20 percent of annual income in some Asian countries.
Not all families can easily afford these costs, and many families may see this as severely not cost effective. However, the money you spend is not an arbitrary number. These costs are so high for a reason.
Why Does Cord Blood Banking Cost So Much?
Here is a breakdown of everything that parents pay for when they choose to collect and process cord blood to be stored in a private cord blood bank (all monetary values provided are averages, not exact pricing):
- Blood Screening: this process screens the blood for infections diseases (if found, the blood may be ineligible for storage): $150
- Blood Processing: this process removes the stem cells from the other parts of the blood: $200 – $300
- Measurement of Nucleated Cells: this processes gives detailed information about the stem cells that will help physicians make better educated decisions when using the blood: $35
- Bacterial and Fungal Infection Check: $75
- Stem Cell Viability Check: this process makes sure that the stem cells are capable of producing new cells: $200 – $250
All of the expenses that are listed above (including everything in the previous section) are only for private cord blood bank storage. If you choose to donate the cord blood to a public cord blood bank, the bank will pay for all of the costs.
While public banks do not charge for their services, they are held to much higher standards. There are many more tests for public cord blood banks, which results in almost 80 percent of the donated blood being discarded.
If you choose to donate to a cord blood bank, you will save a lot of money. However, you will not be guaranteed use of the blood you donate, which negates many of the advantages listed throughout this article. Additionally, public cord blood banks do not accept umbilical cord tissue.
Should You Bank Cord Blood?
The decision to collect and store your child’s cord blood is a personal decision. All you can do is weigh your options and decide what is right for you. If you do choose to collect and store your child’s cord blood, whether in public or private storage, there are assuredly benefits. However, it is up to no one else except you to make this decision. Just remember that there is only one chance to collect your child’s cord blood and the stem cells within.
In addition to the cost of cord blood banking, it is valuable to understand the process. To learn more, watch this informative video by Cryo-Cell International.
As described in this article, stem cells from the umbilical blood and other human tissues are likely to play an increasing role in the future of medicine.
Do you still have questions about cord blood banking? Share them here and we will do our best to answer them.