Can the Umbilical Cord Save Lives?

Can the Umbilical Cord Save Lives?

June 26, 2000--When Lisa Taner, 34, learned that she was pregnant, shewanted to donate her umbilical cord blood, a once discarded birth byproductthat she knew could save lives. Not only would she give birth to one child, butby banking her cord blood she might have the opportunity to help another childsurvive. Or so she thought.

Despite the tremendous promise of cord blood cells in treating disease, itturns out that few public blood banks collect this resource, and private bankscharge high fees for the service. In fact, Taner found it impossible to donateher baby''s cells -- and is now among the growing chorus of parents who say it''stime for that to change.

The Belmont, Calif., woman had read a magazine story reporting that publiccord blood banks were accepting donations of this rich source of stem cells(immature blood cells), to treat children ill with leukemia and other cancers.This account, like many others over the last few years, reported on medicalstudies that had shown that umbilical cord blood transplants were aless-invasive alternative to bone marrow transplants in treating certaindiseases in infants and young children.

But upon calling the Cord Blood Foundation -- a local public cord blood bankin the San Francisco area -- Taner received some bad news: The foundation hadsuspended its public donation program indefinitely. With no federal money andfew alternative resources, it could no longer afford to process and store anymore cord blood than it had already stockpiled.

Taner then looked to other organizations around the country but found theyserved only people in their respective regions. Her last remaining option wasto pay a private bank to collect and store blood that would then be availableonly for her own family''s use -- defeating her purpose of attempting to helpchildren generally.

"My family was very community-oriented, very volunteer-oriented, and Ifigured this was something I could do that wouldn''t require a great investmentof time," the former property manager and math and reading tutor explains."As I learned more about it, I became even more eager to donate. I waspretty disappointed when I found out it wasn''t possible." Ultimately, shedecided against private banking.

To Bank or Not to Bank?

Within the last two years, parents like Lisa Taner had come to expect that anetwork of public banks would be able to store cord blood and save hundreds ofchildren. Yet the expense of establishing such a bank is so high -- anorganization can spend between $1 million and $2 million to get up and running-- that few are able to survive financially.

Private cord blood banking, on the other hand, which is funded byindividuals who pay for the service, is touted as a form of biologicalinsurance -- a way of harvesting one''s own tissues in the hopes of treatingsome future illness.

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