When considering whether to donate your cord blood, it is important to understand the difference between the NHS cord blood bank (a public cord blood bank) and privately owned facilities. Recent publicity in this area has caused much confusion and some misunderstanding and we will try to explain some of the differences for you.
Most private facilities provide an opportunity for donors to store their cord blood. This is in the hope that if, in the future, a member of their family becomes sick with a stem cell treatable disease, there might be a perfectly matched unit available to them. Other private banks collect cord blood in case that child develops a condition that could be treated with their own cord blood. For this service they charge an up-front collection fee and then typically charge a yearly rate for on-going storage of the cord blood unit.
Publicly or government funded facilities, such as the NHS Cord Blood Bank, collect cord blood from public hospitals, free of charge to the donor. The potentially life saving product is then stored indefinitely for possible transplant. This unit is available for any patient that needs this particular special tissue type. There is no charge to the donor but the product is not stored specifically for that person or their family.
When considering the differences between these options, several factors need to be examined.
A public donation is made as a purely altruistic act, solely for the benefit of others. It has the potential to save the life of any person for whom the unit is a good match, including the person who donated it, if it is still available. Private cord banks store a unit solely for use by the donor or their family. According to a study, the probability of an average child requiring a transplant of their own stem cells before the age of 20 is estimated at between one in 5,000 and one in 20,000.
It must also be taken into account that if a child develops leukaemia, it is extremely unlikely that its own cord blood will be appropriate for transplant due to the nature of the disease. A matched unit from a public cord blood bank is more likely to be of use in this situation.
Despite the substantial cost and slim chances of ever needing it however, private cord banks do guarantee an individual the chance to have perfectly matched stem cells stored for future use. We also do not know what the future may hold for the potential uses of cord blood.
Also something to consider is the fact that if cord blood is donated publicly and then several years later the donor requires a transplant, a public bank will always provide the best possible matched cord. This includes the original donation, providing it has not already been used for another patient.
The choice to donate is one that must be based on good information and advice and so if you require any further information on the NHS Cord Blood Bank please contact us.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG)
The RCOG supports public banking and donation to the NHS cord blood bank. The RCOG remains unconvinced about the benefit of storing cord blood with a private bank for families who have no known medical reason to do so.
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