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Posted on April 14, 2009 at 8:23 AM
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Much ado has been made over private cord blood banking when a baby is born for its potential someday to maybe save a child’s life. New research suggests, however, that the likelihood of that eventuality coming to pass is incredibly small.

According to WaPo the study published last month in the journal Pediatrics, 93 pediatric transplant specialists were surveyed to find out how many had used banked cord blood. The answer? Very very few. Just 50 had used banked blood and just 9 had done autologous transplants (giving blood back to the donor). Other cases involved giving the blood to siblings or other relatives.

The interesting finding, however, which should not be glossed over is that in 36 of the 41 cases where banked cord blood was used to treat a sibling or relative, the potential need for a cord blood transplant was known by the parents prior to banking. In other words, parents banked the blood because they had a pretty good idea that their sick child would need the blood someday.

It is hard to argue that in those cases, where there is a sick elder sibling or sick child themselves, for example, that cord blood banking wouldn’t make sense–presuming adequate informed consent, sufficient ability of the parents to pay, disclosure of the facility’s conflicts of interest, if any, etc.

It is the cases where cord blood banking is promoted as GENERALLY a good idea for families where there is no family history of pediatric illness as simply an insurance policy against the remote risk that their child will get sick that banking seems wasteful in terms of both financial resources and emotional and psychological energy on the part of new parents who must decide whether or not to bank their child’s blood.

Of course, as treatments using cord blood become more and more effective, this calculus may change, but at present, asking parents to pay upwards of $1500 per child to bank cord blood they are incredibly unlikely to ever use seems to only be preying on the fears of new parents that their apparently “perfect baby” will someday get sick. Given the data from this Pediatrics study, cord blood banking isn’t worth the multiple costs involved absent foreknowledge of disease or actual illness in the family.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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