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Why More Moms Are Choosing to Save Stem Cells

The use of stem cells, or cord blood, is a rapidly growing area of medical science, and many parents are choosing to save their babies' stem cells in case of a future need. Find out how it's done, along with the cost, benefits, and drawbacks of the process.


newborn baby; baby girl; infantWhen Upper East Side mom Kelly Goldberg heard about the possibility of having her baby's stem cells saved, she first questioned the necessity of the procedure and wondered if it was really worth the time and cost. After her doctor explained the benefits of saving stem cells, Goldberg moved forward with the procedure. "I feel as though I am just covering all the bases in case my child may need them in the future," explains Goldberg. "The time and cost is nothing compared to the long term safety and security of my son".

Her decision is one many parents are making in this growing area of medical science. Since stem cells are harvested from cord blood at the time of birth or during amniocentesis testing, the actual procedure poses no harm or threat to the mother or the newborn. Dr. Hilary Smith, a pediatrician at Pediatric Associates of Southern Westchester, says "Parents may consider saving their child's cord blood to aid in the treatment of certain diseases in this child or a sibling, and possibly other relatives such as cousins. Since the potential uses of cord blood may increase over the next 10 to 20 years, some parents may consider this option if certain hereditary diseases exist in either family."

Dr. Smith explains that stem cells are currently used mostly in the treatment of certain pediatric cancers. "For example, stem cells are implanted following high dose chemotherapy in the treatment of brain tumors (the second most common type of childhood cancer). Stem cells can be used in acquired disorders of the bone marrow such as aplastic anemia (a condition in which all three cell lines in the bone marrow are affected), and in type 1 diabetes. Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer, and stems cells are usually considered contraindicated; however, a sibling's stem cells may be used." Ongoing research is underway into the possibility of using stem cells for the treatment of cerebral palsy, heart disease, stroke, hearing loss, and a variety of degenerative diseases. 

Kate Torchilin, CEO of Biocell Center, a company dedicated to amniotic fluid stem cell preservation, feels that the possibility of future findings is reason enough for new moms to store stem cells. Biocell recently partnered with Innovative Solutions in Valley Stream to help Long Island patients preserve stem cells collected during amniocentesis, rather than at the time of birth. "There is a tremendous amount of exciting work being done today in using stem cells to develop potential treatments for a variety of medical conditions, and there are multiple ongoing clinical trials with such types of cells, mostly in organ transplantation and tissue and bone regeneration.  By preserving a child's amniotic fluid stem cells, a mother, in effect, will insure that her child may benefit from such future medical discoveries, if needed."


How Is It Done?

The actual procedure is painless and cells can be collected through amniocentesis or from the umbilical cord at the time of delivery. Lynda Calderon, mom to 16-month-old Jordan, said the collection process was very simple. "We researched two facilities, Viacord and Cord Blood Registry (CBR), both of which were highly recommended and offered the same services. We chose Viacord, mainly because it was cheaper and they offered various payment plans. I contacted Viacord, they sent me the information, then the collection kit, which I had to bring to the hospital when I was in labor. I told my doctor ahead of time that we were collecting the cord blood so that he was aware." Calderon gave birth at Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island, and upon beginning labor, notified nurses as well about the kit. "Once my son was born, the doctor extracted the cells from the umbilical cord. He completed the kit, and gave it to us. My husband called Viacord and they picked it up within hours. About two weeks later, I received a letter detailing the amount of cells that were extracted and stored."
   Cells can be stored for decades.  Biocell's typical contract is for 19 years, and at the end of that period, the baby becomes a consenting adult who can make a decision about further storage.


What Does It Cost?

Cost may be the only obstacle in having stem cells collected and stored. Collection runs anywhere from $1600-$2000 and the storage fee averages about $125 per year. "Cost is the major hurdle; most average families cannot afford it at the present time. As continuing research is done and (hopefully) stem cells are seen to be useful in more and more diseases and conditions, this cost-benefit ratio may decrease," explains Dr. Smith. "Perhaps insurance companies may one day cover a portion of the cost. If the overall cost goes down I think cord blood banking may become more common."

Aside from price, there is really no downside to banking stem cells. Moms Calderon and Goldberg agree, and both say they would do it again. Dr. Smith says, "We hope to never have to use the stem cells, but if there is even a small chance they may save a child's life, or a sibling's life, I think most parents would do it."


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