Published: Aug. 25, 2006
Updated: Mar. 26, 2010
The possibility that cord blood could one day be used to treat a whole host of degenerative diseases has spurred an industry of private cord blood banking.
Parenting magazines are filled with ads urging expectant couples to bank their baby’s cord blood to protect against diseases he or she may develop in the future.
The combined collection and storage fees charged by private banks can run into thousands of dollars.
Joanne Kurtzberg, MD, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Duke, is critical of the practice. “Private banks woo these families and then don’t follow the standards of testing and storage that we’d need for a successful transplant.”
Furthermore, a child’s own cord blood could not be used to treat conditions like childhood leukemia; if a transplant is needed, healthy donor tissue would be sought.
In contrast, public cord blood banks, such the Duke-based Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, aim to increase the supply of compatible tissue for everyone, at no cost to donors.
“We have a team of people doing the collection with the right equipment and strict protocols for handling,” says Kurtzberg. “The Food and Drug Administration requires a whole battery of tests for public banking that don’t apply to private banking.”
The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act, which former president George W. Bush signed into law in 2005, was expected to more than triple the existing inventory of available cord blood units at public banks by helping to defray the costs of collection and storage currently around $1,600 per unit.
It also established a national registry to serve as a centralized, searchable database of cord blood units as well as bone marrow donors.
More cord blood donations are especially needed to better serve minority populations.
Currently, according to Kurtzberg, “White patients have a more than 50 percent chance of finding a match within the bone marrow registry, whereas it’s around 7 percent for African Americans. Tissue from a donor with the same ethnic background or race tends to do better in the recipient -- there may be minor undetected proteins at play. Also, cord blood is easier to donate than bone marrow, so it’s a way to generate more potential tissue matches.”
Donating cord blood is a safe procedure that occurs after delivery and poses no risk to mother or child.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm about wanting to donate,” says Kurtzberg. “But because of the regulations that keep cord blood safe, mothers can only donate if they happen to deliver in a hospital that has been set up as a collection site.”
Umbilical cord blood is collected by Carolinas Cord Blood Bank specialists at Duke University Medical Center (DUMC), Duke Regional Hospital, UNC Hospitals, Rex Hospital, WakeMed Cary Hospital, and the Women’s Hospital of Greensboro.
The cord blood units are screened, processed, and stored at Duke University Medical Center.