Anyone preparing to give birth likely has numerous questions for their doctor. Alongside questions regarding post-delivery care and check-up appointments, parents should start a conversation about cord blood retrieval.
Two forms of storage could help newborns later in life: public and private cord blood banking. The question now is what to choose between public vs private cord blood banking?
These are the main differences between the two and why parents should care about them before their due date.
What Is Cord Blood?
People often hear about cord blood banking and think it is the same as donating a vial of blood by signing up for a local blood drive. Although both forms of retrieval are life-saving, they aren’t the same.
Cord blood is the blood stored in the umbilical cord and placenta after a successful full-term delivery. It is also known as stem cell banking because retrieval experts separate the stem cells from the red blood cells since those are the part of the cord blood that saves lives.
Shortly before a pregnant person goes into labour, the body transfers an increased number of cells to the fetus to boost its immune system. It is an effort that prepares the fetus for encounters with bacteria and viruses outside of the womb, but researchers found that those blood cells have other uses if stored properly.
How Long Should You Store Cord Blood?
Stem cells are different from red blood cells, so many people considering this type of retrieval wonders how long should you store cord blood. Experts agree that, when frozen, cord blood remains viable for 21 years or longer, depending on the storage quality.
That cellular life span may seem extensive, but that’s the purpose of cord blood banking. Babies rarely need it right away. Cord blood cells can treat over 80 medical conditions, but many of those don’t start developing until much later in life. Long-term storage is necessary to make the retrieval worthwhile.
The most important decision for parents is deciding between public vs private cord blood banking.
What Is Public Cord Blood Banking?
Parents who decide to store their baby’s cord blood in a public bank make those stem cells available for public use. It is a free way to donate to national programs and make stem cells more widely available for children and adults in need.
What Is Private Cord Blood Banking?
Many parents also choose to store their infant’s cord blood privately. This storage method keeps that baby’s stem cells in a private bank only accessible by the parents or child.
The private cord blood banking cost differs from the public storage alternative because ongoing fees pay for the stem cell preservation and exclusive ownership.
Public vs Private Cord Blood Banking: What Makes Them Different?
Anyone trying to decide between public vs. private cord blood banking should learn about these differences. Everyone has to weigh them according to what they believe their child could need in the future in addition to the parent’s individual needs now.
1. Private Cord Blood Banking Includes Fees
There are a few ways that private cord blood banking costs change the game. They are investments in a child’s health because they specifically reserve those cells for that baby.
There will always be the same number of cells available for use, and parents can pick a bank that aligns with their sterility and storage quality standards.
2. Public Banking Helps Additional People
When an infant’s cord blood arrives at a public storage bank, it may be available for that child to use later in life.
Each donation receives the same storage quality and preservation. However, one individual’s stem cells will also be available for anyone in need of stem cell treatment now or in the future.
In 2021, people donated over 4,000 cord blood units to public banks and over 9,000 transplants occurred. Parents often choose public banking to make more stem cells available and close the gap between existing units and needed transplants.
A single donation could be life-saving for the individual who initially donated, but their banked blood could also help others with the same genetic profiles.
3. Private Banking Reserves Genetic Matches
Families with hereditary medical conditions that are rare due to genetics may prefer private cord blood banking.
It would ensure that their child’s unique genes would have a cord blood match if they need a stem cell transplant later in life. There wouldn’t be any need to wait on a transplant list due to a lack of a genetic match.
This is a significant factor for families with rare genetic conditions in their medical history. Hoping for a perfect match later in life is a gamble. It may be in a person’s best interest to opt for private blood banking if they know it is likely that they’ll need those stem cells for a specific diagnosis that’s difficult to treat otherwise.
4. Public Banking Only Applies to FDA Treatments
When someone donates their child’s stem cells to a public cord blood bank, they can only reaccess them for treatments approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Currently, there are only 23 approved therapies and products, which may limit a child’s medical options depending on their diagnosed conditions.
If someone tries to access their stem cells to treat a rare genetic condition, they may not be able to use them for new treatments or trials because the FDA must approve the stem cell use. It depends on the person’s diagnosis and available treatments.
5. Private Banking Helps Other Family Members
Parents often save their child’s stem cells in a private blood bank and never find a need for them. However, if another family member develops a condition that requires stem cell treatment, their child’s banked blood could become a potential treatment.
Their genetics would already be a match, so the cells would be easy to use as a treatment for complete or partial genetic matches within the same family.
6. Public Storage Eventually Involves Fees
Although donating stem cells to public blood banks is free, there are applicable withdrawal fees.
Sometimes those fees are included within insurance coverage and sometimes they aren’t. It depends on what type of insurance a person has and who they choose as their provider.
Benefits of Collecting Cord Blood
There are many benefits to collecting cord blood for both parents and the infants involved. No matter which storage method a family decides to use, stem cells can help in various ways later on.
1. They Replace Damaged Neurons
Stem cell transplantation allows the body to replace the damaged neurons with stem cells that produce new neuron growth. It’s a form of cellular repair and replacement that isn’t possible with current therapies that don’t include stem cells.
2. They Help People With Diabetes
Diabetes is another genetic condition that’s easier to treat with stem cells retrieved from public or private cord blood banking. Given the recent success of clinical trials, scientists know how to transform banked blood into insulin-producing cells to stop diabetes and even reverse it.
This is a relatively new form of treatment that will only grow more common as additional parents store stem cells after their newborn’s delivery.
3. They Mend Heart Tissue
After someone experiences a heart attack, they often lose heart tissue due to cellular necrosis. When given a stem cell transplant, the banked blood begins secreting helpful hormones that heal damaged tissue.
Stem cells may also turn into heart muscle cells if there aren’t enough available to instigate the healing process. A healthier heart with healed tissue is less likely to experience another cardiovascular event.
4. They Aid Medical Research
Researchers can use publicly banked blood in various ways to improve their medical research. Watching how stem cells interact with multiple diseases and tissues in a laboratory setting reveals how those diseases or conditions develop.
Banked blood can also substitute as testing material in laboratories conducting trials with potential new medications or treatments.
5. They Heal Damaged Organs
People who have undergone chemotherapy or experienced an episode like a heart attack can benefit from stem cell treatment. The blood transfer allows the stem cells to heal damaged tissue that suffered from a sudden condition, chemo treatments, or cancerous cells.
When combined with other prescribed therapies or treatment plans, banked blood can speed the recovery process and make it possible to overcome medical conditions. It is less invasive than many other treatments like chemotherapy and has far fewer side effects.
Patients can continue their everyday lives with a higher quality of life while fighting whatever diagnosis they recently received.
Learn More About Cord Blood Banking
While researching public vs private cord blood banking, it is essential to learn their many differences to make the best decision for yourself or your loved ones.
Both storage methods have pros and cons that may alter how each individual decides to proceed. Consider your family’s genetic history and the purpose of your stem cell removal to determine the best type of storage for your unique needs.
My name is Beth. I’m a health writer with 3+ years of experience, and I run an online wellness magazine, Body+Mind.