Cord Blood Benefits Mostly Speculative Right Now

Did you spend $2,000 or $3,000 to store your newborn’s umbilical cord blood in a private cord blood bank? You may have been convinced to do so by exaggerated advertising.

An ABC News investigation earlier this year looked into the marketing claims of some private cord blood banks, uncovering the reality that they may be exaggerating the benefits of private cord banking to well-intentioned parents. Last week, consumer bulldog Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent letters to a handful of the more prominent private banks – Alpha Cord, Cord Blood Registry, PerkinElmer, and M.A.Z.E. Cord Blood Labora – expressing “concern about what appears to be misleading statements in information materials … provide[d] to the public, in particular expectant parents.”

At a time when parents are emotionally and psychologically susceptible, private banks press them to save their-soon-to-be-newborn’s cord blood for the child’s potential future use. Private banking carries a significant initial cost, as well as monthly storage fees of $85-$125. But when a person develops a genetic disease or disorder, his own cord blood will usually carry the same disorder, making it useless in treatment. Indeed, current science and statistics suggest that a person’s chances of needing his own cord blood to treat a disorder are around only 10%. And the prospect that regenerative medicine will advance to a state where cord blood can be used to heal cells damaged by conditions like heart disease is still only speculative.

In contrast, donating your child’s cord blood to a public bank is free. There are currently 17 such public banks throughout the United States. Public banks do not hold cord blood for the donee, but rather, they provide blood to anyone who matches within the donation system. The public banking system is focused almost exclusively to providing cord blood for currently viable treatment, not for regenerative research. Both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend public over private cord blood banking. According to the AMA: “The utility of umbilical cord blood stem cells is greater when the donation is to a public rather than private bank.”