The science of cord blood is changing rapidly, as researchers study new ways to use stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood to treat what are, right now, untreatable conditions.
While some caution that paying to bank cord blood is an unnecessary expense - because the science is still too new - others say scientists will find innovative and important uses for cord blood, making it logical to save it now.
Additionally, banking cord blood makes it possible to conduct clinical studies that would otherwise not be possible.
"It is a bit of a Catch-22," says Kristen Swingle, vice president of Laboratory Operations for Cord Blood Registry in Tucson. "You need to have access to that child's own cord blood stem cells, with regenerative medicine."
It is not possible to know what health conditions the child may ultimately develop, nor what kinds of applications will be available in the future, and the cells can only be banked once, when the child is born, Swingle says.
Jessica Schaefer decided to bank her son's cord blood stem cells after she delivered him 10 weeks early. He later developed cerebral palsy and is now participating in a clinical trial to determine if his own cord blood stem cells can help treat his condition.
"There are some instances where physicians are able to identify, you know, in-utero stroke, and so that is a perfect opportunity to collect that child's cord blood," Schaefer says. "But a lot of times, you do not know in those instances, so you have to take a leap of faith."
Schaefer and her son, Logan, took advantage of the Newborn Possibilities Program, which CBR paid for, and which was set up to help parents facing the prospect of having a child with a severe medical condition bank that child’s cord blood stem cells at no cost. The funding has since been cut for the program.
Tucson Medical Center piloted the program, which Dr. Hugh Miller explains, allowed for the development of clinical trials including the one for cerebral palsy.