During my starting days as counselor I had attended a female 28 yrs. of age diagnosed with depressive disorder since the death of her only 4yr old son due to thalassemia. She had become inhibited to such an extent that she hadn’t eaten for 10 days. It was during those sessions with her when she conceived again, but was very afraid that the same fate would follow her next child. That’s when learnt about umbilical cord banking, and she was very adamant on going ahead with this…but her husband who had spent the last of his savings in the attempt to save his late son was in a dilemma. He wanted to know whether was it even beneficial, leave alone necessary to save the stem cells. I at that time was a novice to; the whole scenario of the same and needed some time to do my on research before I could suggest anything to the couple. This is what I learnt…
The umbilical cord blood carries stem cells, which have the unique potential to treat certain diseases and disorders. currently there are about 40 diseases such as leukemia, lymphomas, thalassemia to name a few which can be treated with these stem cells.
There are two modes of treatment distinguished as:
• Allogeneic- patient receives stem cells from a matching donor, either a sibling or an unrelated donor.
• Autologous- patient receives their own stem cells.
I was highly impressed by this advancement until I found out more about it. When a 4 month old child was diagnosed with osteopetroisis, a potentially fatal disease that affects bone formation, the parents were relieved to hear that the stem cells they had banked could save him and thought themselves to be smart to have the foresight to bank it. However they were shocked when they learnt that they couldn’t use the stem cells as they had the same genetic defect which caused his condition. So the insurance of their child’s life was diseased. The American college of obstetricians and gynecologists and the American academy of pediatrics have issued statements in late 1990s opposing the use of for-profit-banks—and criticizing their marketing tactics. Instead they recommended that parents donate cord blood to public banks, which make it available to anyone who needs it. In fact countries like France and Italy have banned private cord blood banking altogether. In words; of a director of obstetrical clinical research at Massachusetts general hospital, “there is no reason for parents to take on the additional financial burden when there’s little chance of a child ever using his own cord blood.”
Cord blood banking is like an insurance to safeguard you family against unforeseeable events. You should do it out of love and responsibility like LIC jeevan bima, you hope not to use it but if you have to it will be there. But like any insurance cord blood banking isn’t cheap. Certainly there are high hopes for advancement in the stem cell transplantation, but a child’s risk of needing it is 1 in 1000 or even 1 in 20000. There are greater hopes for the potential of embryonic stem cells, which are thought to have the ability to develop into many different types of cells. It is not known whether the stem cells in cord blood have that ability; until recently, it was thought that they (like those in bone marrow) could only regenerate blood and immune cells. In reality a handful cord blood transplants have been given to adults because most don’t have enough to treat a person more than 90 lbs. the private banks usually play up for childhood leukemia but most kids with childhood leukemia are treated with chemotherapy alone. And even if a transplant is needed doctors cant use the child’s stem cells as even that is diseased. Usually the banks prey on parent’s fears and ignorance and usually have no scientific basis on the claims they make. Even if a sick child has a sibling donor, there is less than 25% chance that the cord blood will be a perfect match and an equal chance it wont match at all. Most of the privately stored cord blood is discarded because it being a new field we are not aware of its expiry date.
So umbilical cord blood can save live, but that of your own child is questionable, and it cant be used to treat everything. If cord blood would have a say in heart problems and not just potential, had I been planning for more children, had my family had a history of diseases which can be cured with cord blood cells, I would have surely saved it for my child.
This is what I told that couple and even they decided not to go for it,(though after lot more sessions and explanation to the wife).
Please let me know what you think about cord blood banking and how many parents have gone for it or are planning to go for it and why…?