Cord Blood: Saving For The Future

Thursday, April 30th 2009, 9:26 pm
By: News On 6

By Jennifer Loren, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- News On 6 anchor Jennifer Loren is on maternity leave after delivering a healthy baby girl.  But, during the months leading up to delivery, Jennifer investigated the process of collecting your baby's umbilical cord blood and storing it in a blood bank.  It's an option, a very expensive one, every pregnant woman now has.  In a 6 On Assignment report, Jennifer Loren shares her cord blood banking decision.

For an expectant mother, there are a million details to worry about and a lot of important decisions to be made.

One of those decisions to be made is whether to bank your baby's umbilical cord blood.  Cord blood is valuable because it's full of stem cells scientists and doctors can use in research and regenerative medicine.

"Cord blood stem cells are the ones that are obtained from the newborn. They're closest in age to being an embryonic stem cell without being an embryonic stem cell," said David Harris, PhD with Cord Blood Registry.

When they're stored properly in a bank, like one in Arizona, the stem cells can be used to replace other cells in our bodies that may be damaged or missing due to disease.  But, you only have one chance to harvest them.

"At the time of delivery, before the placenta is delivered, we have a little bag with a needle and a tube, like an IV tubing, and we actually draw the blood out of the placenta into a prepared bag and that's what you send in to the cord blood banking people," said Dr. Lynn Frame.

But, Dr. Frame says very few of his patients actually do it because of the cost.

Most private cord blood banks charge more than $1,000 up front.  Then, for every year you store the blood in one of their cryogenic tanks, it costs about $100.  For 18 years of storage, it can add up to about $3,000.

The price tag didn't stop Tamara Bennett from banking her daughter, Ava's, blood.  She banked it six years ago before most people even knew it was possible.

She didn't think she would ever need to use.

"But I did it and I'm so glad I did. And, I think if people can do it, do it," said Tamara Bennett.

After Ava's blood was collected and stored, Tamara never thought of it again until Ava suddenly got sick with a rare blood disease called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis or LCH.   

LCH is so rare the government does not spend any money to study it, so little is known about why it strikes and who is at risk.  But, Tamara had something that could help them learn more:  Ava's cord blood.

"I was like hey! I've got these stem cells," said Tamara Bennett.

When researchers found out about the valuable cord blood Tamara says she and Ava suddenly became very popular.

"They were like stalking me when they found out.  Somebody has a daughter that has Histiocytosis and has stem cells," said Tamara Bennett.

Ava's stem cells were like a pot of gold within researchers grasp, full of valuable genetic information they could use to find out more about Histiocytosis and work on treatments for it.

Thankfully, Ava doesn't need those treatments because she is in remission.  But, the lucky doctor gifted with a vile of her cord blood is saving it, catering an entire research plan around it.

Bennett says it feels good to know they were able to help with the research.

"Very, very happy. Because especially, you know, wanting to give back.  You know when you experience something like this.  What a better way," said Tamara Bennett.

Right now cord blood stem cells are being used to treat more than 70 life-threatening diseases including a wide range of cancers, blood disorders, immune system deficiencies and genetic diseases.

Research is underway to multiply that number 10 times over.

"The field of regenerative medicine, which is repairing injured tissues and organs with cells from the individual or cells from someone else, is in its infancy and is growing at just a phenomenal pace," said Dr. James Baumgartner with UT Houston Medical School.

But, right now, the pace of regenerative medicine relies solely on privately banked and donated cord blood. That's because most babies' cord blood is simply thrown away after delivery.  Stems cells that could be very valuable.

"Exactly. Unfortunately, there's no public means to collect and store the cord blood at this point. In the future, maybe we'll have that," said Dr. Lynn Frame.

The question for expecting parents is are you willing to wait for that possibility?

"We look at it as this is something that could possibly save our child's life in the future. So do you think that it would be worth the money?" asked Jennifer Loren.

"Well, if you're the one out of a few thousand that needs it it's well worth it. If you're the rest of everybody you've spent a lot of money for no use," said Dr. Lynn Frame.

For Jennifer and her husband, the decision was to save the cord blood.  The collection kit came with detailed instructions and everything their doctor needed to collect the blood.  All they had to do was fill out some forms and have the kit ready to take to the hospital.

As new parents, Jennifer and her husband feel comforted knowing they have their daughter's cord blood for whatever the future may hold.

Once you've stored your baby's cord blood it can be used for other family members as well.  Direct siblings are the best match, but even parents can benefit from a baby's cord blood.

There is a website with more information about cord blood storage.

How do I find a reliable cord blood bank?

  • Start your cord blood bank search early.

  • Ask doctor for brochures and information.

  • Talk to friends and family members to see if they have any recommendations.

  • Find out exactly how much it will cost up front and then for each year of storage.

  • Learn which cord blood banks offer discounts for early enrollment or other special offers.

  • Find out how many samples each bank processes in a year. The more samples processed the more professional the bank.

  • Find out where and how the blood will be stored and make sure it is up to current standards

  • Learn where your blood will be stored, geographically, and ask about safety precautions during natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes.