Currently, it costs a public bank approximately USD $2,000 to collect, test, and process a unit of cord blood for storage. In order to accept donations at no cost, public banks require income to support themselves. This income can come from federal funding, the profit margin of private banking, or from selling donated cord blood units for research. Alternatively, it can come from a combination of the above.
While there is no fee to collect, process, and store a newborn’s cord blood for donation, some public banks do require other standards, such as HIV testing. If an individual’s health insurance does not cover this cost, the donor may be responsible. Public banks also charge USD $15,000 to $35,000 when a unit is provided for transplantation.
Moreover, because most units are preserved for potential transplant into another human, not every woman can donate her newborn’s cord blood. All donations intended for transplant require a thorough family medical history, although some public banks will preserve cord blood not suitable for transplant for research purposes, in an effort to support medical advances within the field.
While not every geographic region has a local program, there are facilities available that can receive cord blood donations from any hospital and state. The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) website has a list of affiliated public banks. The NMDP also offers a list of non-affiliated banks. These banks have a broader network of collecting hospitals, including renowned organizations such as the New York Blood Center.
Interestingly, in 2005, the U.S. federal government passed The Stem Cell Research Act. It committed $79 million to create a unified National Cord Blood Stem Cell Banking program to increase the inventory of newborn stem cells accessible to the public by 150,000 units within five years. Its purpose was to make it possible to match unrelated stem cells to more than 90% of patients in need. Passage of this act was a clear indication of the U.S. government’s support of public cord blood banking practices.
As mentioned previously, transplants using stem cells from a family member have a higher likelihood of being a suitable match and can eliminate the need to search for a suitable donor within public registries. Research shows that cord blood transplants using genetically related stem cells result in more than double the survival rate over using unrelated cord blood stem cells from a public bank (63% vs. 29%) and significantly lower instances of GVHD, a serious and potentially fatal transplant complication.
For this reason, there are three free cord blood programs that were established for families in need within the United States. Two are sponsored by private cord blood banks and the third is federally funded, as described below.
Free Cord Blood Programs in the United States:
1. Cord Blood Registry (CBR) -This privately funded program helps expectant parents with a family member suffering from a disease treatable with stem cells. CBR covers the cost of cord blood collection and storage, until it is required for family use. CBR has provided this free service for over 1,000 families.
2. CorCell (Sibling Donor Cord Blood Program) – Intended to help families with a child suffering from a disease treatable with stem cells, CorCell covers all costs of collection, courier transportation, processing, testing, and storage of the cord blood for five years.
3. Children’s Hospital of Oakland (CHORI) with ViaCell (Sibling Donor Cord Blood Program) – Funded by the National Institute of Health, CHORI stores cord blood free for families throughout the U.S.
To be eligible for these programs, a family must:
- Provide primary care for a child with a disease considered to be treatable by allogeneic stem cell transplantation
- Have the support of an attending physician
- Anticipate the birth of a full biological sibling
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