Stem cells harvested from a baby's umbilical cord can currently be used to treat or cure upwards of 80 types of blood-related and genetic diseases. What's even more exciting are the many clinical trials underway giving hope that one day, in the not too distant future, stem cells will be able to treat or cure things such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injury!
Yes, you can harvest stem cells from the bone marrow of adults, but it has to be a much closer match genetically to the recipient. Stem cells from a baby's cord blood, on the other hand, are much more flexible and are more likely to work for a sibling, parent, or even a stranger. Not to mention there is no pain or risk in harvesting and banking cord blood, which otherwise is thrown out as medical waste... what a waste!!
First, you have to do some research to find the cord blood bank you want to use (you may find my comparative list on Mommy Nearest helpful), and you'll need to sign up between your 28th and 34th week of pregnancy. They'll send you the collection kit and all the information you need, and you'll have to inform your care provider that you will be banking your baby's cord blood. If you have a birth plan, go ahead and include it on there as well. After your baby is born, the cord will be cut as usual (you can even opt to delay cord clamping and still collect cord blood) and your baby will be handed to you, your partner, or to the nurse, and the doctor will take a few minutes to collect the cord blood (remember - the baby is no longer attached to the cord at this point, and you have no nerve connections to it either - so it is a 100% painless procedure). Your partner, or whoever you designated to be in charge, will call the specified courier to come pick up your kit, and you'll be notified after a certain amount of time if the collection was a success (i.e. a certain number of viable cells were collected).
As with any type of insurance, it's all about weighing the risks, costs, and benefits, right? Well, it's estimated that 1 in 200 Americans will need a stem cell transplant during his or her lifetime, and as the uses for stem cells increases, so will your child's chance of ever needing them. The chance of finding a donor, as with any transplant, can be slim. Add to that being a racial minority and your chances are even slimmer. My children are half Japanese and half caucasian, not an especially common genetic makeup you can imagine, which is the main factor in my considering banking.
But what about the costs? I always thought of cord blood banking as one of those hoity toity luxuries that only the rich and famous can indulge in, so I didn't even look into it when pregnant with my first child. Boy was I wrong! Every cord blood bank is different in what they charge and what they offer, so you'll have to do research and call around for special promotions, but in general you can expect to pay somewhere between $1,000-2,000 for cord blood collection and storage for the first year, and another $100-200 per year for storage after that. Many offer great long term packages, payment plans, as well as additional storage options for placental blood and tissue.
For example, here's a breakdown of the current promotion being offered by one of the top cord blood banks, LifebankUSA:
Cord Blood: $1,550 for collection and 1st year of storage. $1,845 for 18 years of prepaid storage, or $2,562.50 for 25 years.
Cord Blood & Placenta Blood: $2,499 for collection and 1st year of storage. $3,690 for 18 years of prepaid storage, or $5,125 for 25 years. (Collecting placenta blood in addition to cord blood, as LifebankUSA gives you the option to do, allows for collecting 60-70% more CD34+ stem cells - the ones most important for rebuilding diseased blood with healthy blood, as well as more progenitor stem cells - the ones playing an important role in regenerative medicine).
Cord Blood, Placenta Blood, & Placenta Tissue: $3,499 for collection and 1st year of storage. $4,428 for 18 years of prepaid storage, or $6,150 for 25 years. (Placenta tissue contains mesenchymal cells (MSC), which have strong potential in regenerative therapies to rebuild bones and cartilage).
LifebankUSA also offers 12- and 24-month payment plans, so you don't have to worry about having the lump sum right at the start.