Womens Health

Issues Around Stem Cells

While there is no doubt that stem cells have the ability to help to heal, or cure, many diseases and genetic conditions, there is controversy about how stem cells are harvested and where this research may lead.

Private Banking Versus Donation
If your family has a history of blood or genetic disorders, or of cancers or other diseases, cord blood banking might be a good idea for you. If, however, there is little chance of your baby developing a serious disease or disorder, you might end up paying to store something that you will never need to use.

There is controversy about whether people who have a low risk of serious illness should be allowed to preserve their infant’s cord blood instead of donating it to a public stem cell bank so that someone who is already sick could benefit from them. Private stem cell banks are already illegal in Europe, where the European Union forbids making a profit on any body materials.

Adding strength to the argument that stem cells that are not likely to be needed by the family should be donated is the fact that, unlike stem cells found in bone marrow, cord blood stem cells do not have to be an exact match. Cord blood stem cells cuts down on the risk of graft vs. host disease, infections and HLA-antigen matching problems.

Another issue with storing your baby’s cord blood is that little is known about the life expectancy of frozen stem cells. Stem cell technologies are a recent advancement so it’s impossible to know whether stem cells stored today will still be viable after 10 years. Most scientists speculate that with recent advances in storage technology stem cells could last up to 20 years in storage, but there is still no way of knowing for sure.

Limitations of Cord Blood Stem Cells
Umbilical cords only contain about three to five ounces of blood and yield significantly fewer stem cells than bone marrow does. Until recently, the reach of cord blood treatments was limited to small adults and children. Advancements are being made in the field of stem cell treatments, however, and stem cells are becoming a more viable option for treating children and adults alike.

If you choose to privately bank your cord blood, you will want to check out the facilities of the banks available before you commit. Make sure that the staff is trained in the proper handling and preservation procedures. If you can, take a tour of the laboratory and other facilities, do so while you’re still pregnant. Pay attention to the condition of the equipment and the behavior of the staff.

Financial Condition
Since you will likely be storing your cord blood for a decade or longer, the financial status of the blood bank you choose will be important. If the bank is unlikely to remain solvent for such a long period of time, you may lose your investment. Make sure that the bank’s finances are solid and ask what will happen should they go out of business at some point in the future.

An accredited blood bank will abide by the regulations and rules outlined by the accrediting authorities. It is important that you choose a blood bank that is accredited and undergoes regular inspections to ensure that the facility remains up to date and maintains it’s equipment and procedures, in order to maintain the safety of your baby’s cord blood.

While it may not be possible to find a cord blood bank in your area, many banks will arrange for courier services to get the cord blood from the location of the birth to their facilities. You may also choose to do this if there is a bank in your area that you don’t feel comfortable storing your cord blood at. It is important that location not be the only factor consider when deciding where to store cord blood.

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