Cord Blood Banking: Marketing Before Medicine?

However, American Medical Association guidelines object to physician compensation when patients donate cord blood.

"Physicians shall not accept financial or other inducements for providing samples to cord blood banks," according to the American Medical Association guidelines.

Banking on a Future Unknown

Cord blood is marketed for two uses -- as a treatment for diseases including leukemia and sickle cell disease, and as a potential source of cells for regenerative medicine, a cutting-edge field of medicine studying how to repair tissues damaged by everything from heart disease to cerebral palsy.

"I think the science is very far along with respect to cardiac indication and cardiac regeneration on our laboratories," said Morey Kraus, chief scientific officer of ViaCord, in response to whether experimental treatments should be marketed as a potential benefit of private banking.

Besides paper ads and Internet sites that promote private banking, companies like Cord Blood Registry (CBR), the largest private cord blood banking firm, also hire real parents to attract future customers.

"It is a program of CBR moms that are passionate about cord blood," said Tom Moore, CEO of Cord Blood Registry. "They simply spread the word."

However, unlike private storage of a newborn's umbilical cord blood, which can range from $2,000 to $3,000 up front, plus yearly storage fees of $85 to $125, public cord blood banking is free and is entered in a public system where the cells are available to anyone who needs it.

In fact, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends public banking over private, favoring private banking only when there is already an affected family member or a disease in the family that would benefit from a transplant.

"The utility of umbilical cord blood stem cells is greater when the donation is to a public rather than private bank," according to American Medical Association guidelines. "Therefore, physicians should encourage women who wish to donate cord blood to donate to a public bank if one is available. Doing so will result in greater availability of stem cells to patients from minority populations."

Still, firms such as ViaCord and Cord Blood Registry are banking on many parents who believe that their child's stem cells may one day treat chronic conditions.

"I think the hope is there, because if you didn't store them you could never do the research on them," said Moore.

But while many firms market private cord blood banking as a hedge against the future when cord blood stem cells may be used to treat more diseases, most experts say it is still too early to tell.

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