Parents pay to store their babies’ cord blood, but few ever use it
Australian parents are paying thousands of dollars to store their babies’ umbilical cord blood with private operators – but only a few families have ever used it.
Just six out of an estimated 30,000 people who banked cord blood privately in the past decade have accessed it, said Mark Kirkland, medical director of private bank Cell Care.
The head of the Australian Medical Association, Steve Hambleton, said he was concerned parents were being ”oversold” the merits of storage – which can cost up to $3000 – and misled into spending money that was unlikely to have any benefit.
”The odds that people will ever use stored cord blood are extremely low,” he said. ”It’s a very expensive insurance policy.”
Cord blood, rich in stem and immune cells, is extracted from the umbilical cord and placenta after birth and is used in Australia for transplants on children with leukaemia and other diseases.
Associate Professor Kirkland said the number of parents storing cord blood was growing ”massively”, with the three private banks in Australia collecting about 4000 samples each year, at a cost of $3000 for 18 years’ storage.
”A lot of people consider it a no-brainer to take this as a sort of insurance,” he said. ”In the past five years, research has taken off. There are numerous clinical trials going on exploring the use of cord blood in all kinds of neurological conditions. If you haven’t stored the blood and these therapies do eventuate, you can’t go back and change your mind.”
Researchers are conducting clinical trials using cord-blood stem cells to treat a range of conditions, including cerebral palsy, type 1 diabetes, autism, spinal cord injury and congenital hearing loss.
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In Australia, cord blood banked privately allows the child to be treated using their own blood. Blood banked publicly can be accessed by the general population.
About 19,000 people have donated to the public Sydney Cord Blood Bank, with about 500 units released in the past 20 years.
The quality and regulatory affairs manager at the private bank Cryosite, Graeme Moore, said the probability of use is about one in 2000 to 4000 for leukaemia.
”We make that very clear to parents. But we also make the point that this probability is only for very limited current indications. People store the blood because in five or 10 years, it might be useful.”
But Dr Hambleton said parents needed to be aware that the likelihood of return is ”infinitesimal”.
”The way stem-cell technology is going, you may not need cord blood when we are good enough to make stem cells pluripotent.”
Jamie Memis, from Lyndhurst in Melbourne’s south-east, paid $3000 to store the cord blood of her five-month-old daughter, Layla Evangeline, for 25 years. She says while she understands she may never use it, she has no regrets.
”I do believe that in the future, it will be beneficial, but at the very least, it’s an insurance policy for the next 25 years.
”If my child was ever to get sick with something like leukaemia, I’d be beside myself to think there was something I could have done to help and I didn’t take that option.”
Layla’s cord blood is also a match for her two-year-old brother, Perry, who could also use it.
”Money’s not an object when it comes to your child’s health and future.”