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December 21 1999 The Hope and Hype of Cord Blood By DENISE GRADY Should parents pay a blood bank to store the blood from their newborn babys umbilical cord and placenta in case that child or another family member ever needs it to treat cancer or leukemia Expectant parents are being urged to do so by companies that have sprung up during the past few years to sell cord-blood banking as a form of biological insurance against such dreaded diseases The pitch is based on reports in medical journals such as a major study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that cord blood can sometimes be used in place of a bone marrow transplant Like bone marrow cord blood is rich in stem cells which can churn out many different types of cells to rebuild a patients blood supply and immune system after high doses of radiation and chemotherapy And a patients own cord blood or that from a relative is more likely than cord blood from an unrelated donor to be a good tissue match and to be accepted by the recipients body Some experts in bone-marrow transplantation and blood banking frown on the cord-blood business arguing that people are being frightened into wasting money on a service they will probably never need Moreover private companies are growing in tandem with public banks and some scientists worry that private banking will limit public access to cord blood They are concerned because the cord blood in private banks remains the property of the donor family and is not available to patients seeking a compatible donor But the companies say that however remote the possibility that the blood will be needed people who choose to bank their own cord blood have a right to do so In most cases their cord blood would be thrown away in the delivery room if they did not pay to bank
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