The Practicing Parent: Pros & cons of stem cell banking

Umbilical cord stem cell banking can be expensive and controversial, but Jamie and Ben Page decided to bank their daughter, Harlow's stem cells just in case.

"We had heard about cord blood banking and talked about it a lot and thought let's just go for it and have it just as a backup," Jamie Page said.

They did need it. Harlow had cancer in her uterus.

"On the ultrasound they immediately saw that there was a mass in her abdomen about the size of a grapefruit," Page said.

After a year of chemo, the tumor was gone. Doctors wanted to keep it that way.

"So, when the doctors found out we actually had her own stem cells, they were very excited," Page said.

Oncologist Elaine Morgan says those stem cells helped Harlow.

"I think that her umbilical cord cells were used as a boost to her own cells when we harvested her to have adequate cells for reconstitution," Dr. Morgan said.

Dr. Morgan does not advocate private cord stem cell banking at birth to be saved for a healthy baby's later use, because it's not clinically useful and it's expensive.

The Pages paid almost $2,000 for the initial banking fee, plus an extra $125 per year.

Dr. Morgan says banking for a sick sibling is worthwhile. She says only 1 in 4 siblings are a match and sometimes finding a match can be difficult.

"We could come across a patient who's HLA type doesn't match with anything that's already in the bank," Dr. Morgan said.

Just before her fifth birthday, Harlow's cancer returned. Her parents say the stem cells gave her four years to grow strong so her body could fight it. She has undergond radiation and surgery to remove the tumor and she is receiving 40 weeks of chemotherapy.

"We still think she has a really good chance of being cured with her current therapy," Page said.

The Pages say banking Harlow's stem cells was easy. Right after her birth the doctor collected the blood and a courier took it to the bank. There are a number of umbilical cord stem cell banking companies online.

They also recommend doing your research to find a reputable one. They chose a private bank, but say if you choose not to go that route, consider donating in order to provide a potential match for someone in need.


UMBILICAL CORD STEM CELL BANKING: The use of umbilical cord blood stem cells

has increased significantly in the past 20 years. Many doctors recommend

banking for a variety of reasons. It is used today to treat many

life-threatening diseases including leukemia, certain other cancers and blood,

immune, and metabolic disorders. Using your own family's cord blood can have

many advantages in treatments, including fewer complications and improved

medical outcomes. Cord blood stem cells are not embryonic stem cells and are

not controversial. Banking cord blood is a safe and painless procedure that

usually takes less than five minutes and happens immediately after birth.

After the umbilical cord has been cut, the remaining blood in the cord is

collected. The cord blood is then shipped to the laboratory, processed, and

frozen in cryogenic storage tanks. Any member of the family who is a suitable

match may be able to use your baby's cord blood stem cells for transplant

medicine. Siblings are most likely to be compatible matches with 25 percent of

these cases offering a match. Currently, there are more than 30 FDA-regulated

clinical trials researching medical uses for cord blood stem cells, including

studies for brain injury, juvenile diabetes, cerebral palsy, and hearing loss.


For More Information, Contact:

Elaine Morgan, MD

Attending Physician in Hematology and Oncology

Lurie Children's Memorial Hospital

Chicago, IL