Stem Cell Banking Pros and Cons

Stem Cell Banking Pros and Cons

Maybe, in the last decades, you've heard from experts in stem cells that you must preserve a newborn's cord. But, why do they say this?

The main reason why experts in stem cells, like UnitedHealthcare® Oxford, recommend banking the umbilical cord blood and amniotic fluid stem cells is the fact that these fluids contain a lot of stem cells.

This is very important because both types of stem cells can be used to treat many chronic diseases that, until a few years ago, were incurable or did not have an efficient treatment, such as cancer, blood and immune system diseases. It is very important because all these diseases can affect the body's capability to defend itself from subsequent damages or injuries, triggering a process of significant degeneration to the rest of the systems of the body.

At this point, it is very important to say that experts in the area have created different types of stem cells banks, including public cord banks, private cord banks and direct-donation banks.

The public stem cells banks have the huge pro that they don't charge for the storage, they only work with donations. However, they have the con that the stem cells stored in them can be used for any person who needs it (they are not reserved for the donor family). Likewise, stem cells stored in this type of banks can be used by the experts for research purposes.

On the other hand, private stem cells banks, also called commercial stem cells banks, have the pro that they will receive the stem cells and they will be stored to be used only if the donor, or a family member, needs them. However, this kind of banks have the con that they can be very expensive, so not everyone has the opportunity to pay the costs of processing the samples and the annual quota of storage.

Finally, direct-donation stem cells banks are a great combination of the previous two. These banks have the pro that they store the stem cells to be used for everyone who needs them, but they can also receive stem cells reserved for a specific family for no fees.

What are the Stem Cell Banking Pros?

An important pro of stem cell banking is the fact that, from newborns cord blood and amniotic fluid, the experts can obtain 10 times more stem cells than from bone marrow aspiration. This fact is very important considering that some diseases require a huge amount of stem cells to be properly treated, so stem cells obtained from 1 bone marrow aspiration might not be enough.

Another important pro of cord blood and amniotic fluid stem cells is the fact that this kind of stem cells rarely carry any infectious disease and are less prone to trigger a rejection response than adult stem cells. In fact, a study published by Joanne Kurtzberg called “A History of Cord Blood Banking and Transplantation” shows that people who undergo a stem cell transplant have a lower chance of complications if the donor is a relative.

Likewise, obtaining cord blood stem cells is very easy. After the birth, the doctor will clamp and cut the umbilical cord (as it is normally done) and after that, he/she will insert a needle through an extreme of the umbilical cord to obtain 40 milliliters of blood (or more) that will be sealed, sent and processed in a specialized laboratory before banking it. As the blood is obtained from the umbilical cord after this is cut, it is a painless and non-invasive procedure neither for the mother nor the baby.

What are the Stem Cell Banking Cons?

It is very important to highlight that one of the main cons of stem cells is the fact that, in some cases, even when the blood cord and amniotic fluid stem cells are properly stored, they can't be used when the disease that will be treated is caused by a genetic mutation, because the stem cells will have this mutation too.

Another con of blood cord and amniotic fluid stem cells banking is the fact that once they are stored, they can be used only during the next 15 years, so if a person develops a disease after this time, the stem cells will no longer be useful. This is the main reason why certain medical associations (such as The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and The American Academy of Pediatrics) only recommend the cord blood and amniotic fluid stem cells banking when a sibling or a parent of the newborn has a medical condition that can be treated or controlled with those stem cells, but not as a routine procedure.

It is very important to say that a con of amniotic fluid stem cells banking is that many researchers say that once that they are frozen, they die, so their storage is not recommended. However, this point is still very controversial, and more studies are needed.

Finally, the highest con of research with embryonic stem cells (ESCs) is still very controversial because they must be obtained from a human blastula (one of the earliest stages of human life with approximately 100 cells). After that, the cells are maintained in a laboratory or fertility clinic.

In conclusion, stem cells banking is still controversial, so only a qualified doctor can help you to make the best decision and determine the best type of bank for you and your family according to your particular needs.

Dr. Curt Collins