Now that Canada is accepting umbilical cord blood donations from families, Canadians are questioning the differences between donor and family cord blood banking.
Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann, a pediatrician at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital in the US with knowledge of cord blood banking, decided that a family program was in her family’s best interests. Dr. Berchelmann donated her first four children’s cord blood as she initially believed that donor cord blood banking was for the best.
But after conducting more of her own research on cord blood, Dr. Berchelmann decided to use a family cord blood bank following the birth of her fifth child. She identified over 200 studies involving cord blood stem cells, which are being used in clinical trials as a potential source of therapy for Type 1 Diabetes, spinal cord injury, autism, Alzheimer’s, and dozens of other diseases – trials that were impossible a decade ago.
In selecting a family cord blood banking option with her youngest child, Dr. Berchelmann provided her family with sole access to a potentially viable source of therapy if ever a family member is diagnosed with a serious illness.
When families register with a family cord blood banking program, their baby’s cord blood is put on reserve for the family alone. This is a significant and beneficial contrast to the donor banking system:
Many donated cord blood samples are rejected for multiple reasons, which means the sample never makes it into the donor registry
Samples that do make it to the registry are made available to all families in need. This means the family who made the donation may be unable to access their own sample
Donated cord blood samples are also used by researchers to uncover potential new sources of cord blood therapy
In many cases, a baby’s cord blood can be used to help other members of the family due to matching genetics. But the family loses this option through donor cord blood banking
During her research, Dr. Berchelmann found that critics of family cord blood banking are relying on outdated data to make their claims. Research from 2007 suggests there is a 1 in 10,000 chance that a family will use their banked cord blood. But more recent research disputes that claim, and indicates that a child is far more likely to benefit from a cord blood stem cell transplant than initially believed.
New scientific discoveries are made each year, and the number of diseases that could potentially benefit from cord blood transplants is constantly growing. Dr. Berchelmann was one of many parents who based their decision on the potential future benefits made available through cord blood banking.