Stem Cell Banking: too good to be true?

It is rumoured that Walt Disney had his body frozen after his death, so he could be revived in the future if modern science makes it possible.

Today, Scarborough residents have the opportunity to do the same — well, kind of.

The banking of umbilical cord blood, which is rich in stem cells, may have made it possible to one day cheat death.

It may not have the science-fiction movie feel that thawing yourself out years after your death does, but being able to store what may be the key to biological invincibility does seem a bit too good to be true.

Imagine that your perfectly healthy baby one day grows up to develop an agonizing, life-threatening illness and that you, as the parent, did not store any of their blood that could end up saving their life.

Never fear, private cord blood collection agencies have the answer. For a few thousand dollars, you may be able to ensure that your family will be invincible to many of the most life-threatening diseases known to man.

Sounds pretty great, right? I mean, how can you put a price on the ultimate form of life insurance?

What they don’t tell you is that in most cases doctors cannot use a baby’s own cord blood for treatment because the disease they are trying to treat is most likely already in that blood.

Ok, well if that option’s out, maybe a family member could use it down the road if they get sick, right? Blood from a relative will be a better match than relying on what can be found at a public blood bank.

That’s not quite true either. The amount of usable stem cells in umbilical cord blood is far less than what anyone over approximately 100 pounds would require for a successful transplant. The blood is a better match, but it can only be used for children, and even then, the transplant success rate is still not 100 per cent.

So really, privately banking umbilical cord blood upon conception is a really pricey form of life insurance which may never pay out in the end.

Sure, there are benefits. Individuals in minority groups, or with less common blood types, may have a harder time finding a suitable match if the need presents itself. The private banking of umbilical cord blood could also be useful if there are young children in the family and the family has a history of illness and disease.

Otherwise, privately banking a child’s cord blood may not yet ensure that the child will grow up to be impermeable to disease. Blood is in you to give and perhaps the best option, at least for now, is to donate a newborn’s cord blood to a public bank where there is a guarantee that someone will benefit from it.