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Should cord blood be saved?
Q: My husband and I are very interested in saving our baby's cord blood but from what I've seen, it is very expensive. I've read a lot of information on the importance of cord blood and the miracles it has done with saving babies' lives, as well as their siblings. I really don't want to miss out on this opportunity. Is there any way that you can still save the cord blood when you don't have very much money?
A: Companies are barraging my patients with offers to save their baby's umbilical cord blood at delivery. This is an exciting new technology and one that should be considered carefully by each couple.

When I deliver a baby I clamp the umbilical cord, severing the connection between mom and her newborn. There is residual blood in the umbilical cord and placenta that is typically thrown away. This is extra blood that the baby does not need to prosper at birth, and it is rich in special cells known as stem cells and fetal red blood cells.

Researchers have discovered important uses for this extra blood and its potential for revolutionary uses in the future. The cord blood contains stem cells and red blood cells; each has specific uses for your baby and family. Stem cells have the unique ability to transform into many other types of tissue. Researchers believe that one day, they'll be able to make hearts, livers, kidneys, nerve cells and more by using these cells. Today, fetal red blood cells can be used for a bone marrow transplant for your child or for close family members suffering from a variety of rare cancers (cord blood from your baby is much more likely than donor blood to be a match for family members.)

Cord blood is already being used in the treatment of cancers, genetic diseases and anemic conditions. In the future, it has great potential in the treatment of diabetes, Alzheimer's and heart disease, muscular dystrophy and stroke. The future of cord blood therapeutic technology may be unlimited!

Cord blood can be saved indefinitely. The initial cost associated with saving your baby's cord blood ranges from $500 - $1500. This includes the collection kit, the cost of drawing the cord cells from the umbilical cord, laboratory processing and storage fees, and transportation to the storage facility. There is also an annual storage charge of $50 - $100.

I counsel my patients regarding the benefits of saving their baby's cord blood. I tell them it is a form of self-insurance (although I have not seen a health insurance company pay a penny for the procedure), and that I wish this opportunity had been available when my children were born. If they can comfortably afford the cost, I strongly urge patients to save the cord blood. Otherwise, I ask them to consider becoming a donor … this simple gift can be lifesaving. There are several large companies in the cord blood business including Cord Blood Registry, ViaCor and Anthrogenesis (Lifebank) that you can contact them through 800 information or online. Companies offering a free donor program include Anthrogenesis (Lifebank) of Cedar Knolls, New Jersey.

By all means, speak with your doctor about their experience with cord blood collection before you decide if it's the right thing for you to do.
Craig L. Bissinger M.D.