In a nondescript commercial park on the outskirts of Las Vegas, a large cryogenic stem cell storage facility is ready to accept your baby’s blood. Cord Blood America in Las Vegas is one of dozens of private cord blood banks in the United States that, for a fee, will store stem cell-rich blood taken from a newborn baby’s umbilical cord.
Over one hundred thousand families save or donate cord blood annually, in the hopes it will one day provide medical help to their child or someone else.
“My vision is within the next 10 years we’ll see organizations like this develop into cellular therapy labs,” said Dr. Geoffrey O’Neill, vice president of CorCell, the subsidiary company that runs Cord Blood America’s Las Vegas facility. It’s beginning to happen now in countries like China and Mexico, he says.
...Reality is different. Leukemia, bone marrow failure, immune deficiency, metabolic diseases and sickle cell anemia — the diseases cord blood is typically needed for — require transplants of healthy cells. The cord blood of a child with leukemia would also carry the disease.
“If you have the money, and you want to bank your child’s own cord blood, you’re essentially investing in one of two things,” said Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, director of the Duke Pediatric Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program. “One, the possibility that another child in your family will need that cord blood, and that it matches. Or two, that somewhere in the future there will be new developments and new uses for your child’s cord blood — say in regenerative medicine or cell therapy. But to date, none of those exist.” While a few rare diseases, such as multiple myeloma and lymphoma, use stem cells taken from a patient’s own body, the chances of a child having these are vanishingly small.
...Parents pay $2,075 for the kit, courier fees and one year’s storage. CorCell charges a $125 annual storage fee after that. Some insurance companies offer discounts. CorCell has been in business for six years and stores about 30,000 samples; Geoffrey O’Neill, the vice president, says he recalls seven or eight samples being pulled for use. A CorCell customer service representative later estimated this at 25 to 30 samples. [30,000 / <30 = <1 in 1000 = <0.1%]
Inside the Cord Blood America facility, quotes painted on the walls are the first thing to capture the visitors’ attention: “The entire history of science is a progression of exploded fallacies,” proclaims Ayn Rand on one wall. “Do or do not, there is no try,” says Yoda on another. On another wall, Micky Rooney offers some advice: “You always pass failure on the way to success.”