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A public cord blood bank receives donations of umbilical cord blood and stores it for use for people who have certain medical disorders that may be treated with stem cells. The bank keeps a record of the genetic aspects of each donation so it can precisely match this to people who may need treatment. Alternately, it may use the collections for stem cell research; most banks specify their activities. Donation is optional, limited to a few hospitals, and may cost extra money. Public banks compete with private banking, where people pay to have cord blood collected and stored, in case it is needed by other family members; a match from baby to siblings or other family members isn’t guaranteed.
Since private banking isn’t a guarantee of obtaining needed stem cells, most physicians encourage use of a public cord blood bank instead. Families must understand that by donating publicly, they give up any proprietary interest in their cord blood. If a sibling or relative of the newborn were to need it later, he or she wouldn’t have any special rights to the family’s donation.
Lack of “ownership” may discourage some people from considering a public cord blood bank. Numerous physicians argue that public donations have the advantage of providing many more potential matches than one or two stored collections of cord blood, and most people will better match to a public bank than a private store. Private donation is also expensive, with an upfront cost of several thousand US dollars (USD), and yearly storage costs.
There are several public banks available, though not nearly enough to meet the need for people with conditions that could be treated with stem cells, and families can search by their region or state to see if a hospital nearby works with a bank. Obstetricians or family practice doctors also have to cooperate during delivery of the baby. As mentioned, the family may need to pay some of the cost, which is usually about $100 USD or slightly more, and families need to check with the public cord blood bank or the obstetrician to see if this fee applies.
Also, banks don’t accept donations from every family and they conduct or ask the obstetrician to conduct a thorough health history of the mother. If the mother’s health or her history is poor, donations are refused. Additionally, about half of all donations get discarded for things like insufficiency in volume.
It’s difficult to fund a public cord blood bank and this explains why they’re not available everywhere. These banks rely on financial donations, too, but many of them have a low profile and don’t get the attention they need to do more than operate on a shoestring budget. As more is understood about stem cells, interest in public banking has grown and this may increase public support for these banks, which directly or through research might offer lifesaving treatments for people with certain illnesses.