The cord-blood controversy

By Alix Christie


Salon Staff
July 19, 2000 11:31PM (UTC)

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The article featured by writer Alix Christie, and appearing on Salon.com, does not give an accurate depiction of cord blood banking, and is inaccurate in fact. At one point the statement is made that cord blood contains only stem cells that reproduce into the blood and immune system.

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It is true that cord blood contains stem cells that form the blood and immune system, and that cord blood has been used successfully since 1988 to treat over 35 life-threatening diseases. However, in November of 1999, Japanese researchers discovered other types of precursor cells in umbilical cord blood and presented this data to the American Heart Association. These cells, called "progenitor endothelial cells," are the building blocks of blood vessels; in fact, the story was titled "Japanese research hints of homegrown heart bypasses." The story ran on Reuters and conveyed that one day heart patients may be able to "grow" their own heart bypasses.

This is just one example of the lack of information included in the article by Christie. I represent the largest umbilical cord blood bank in the United States, Cordblood Registry, and I was never contacted by Christie for comment or clarification of data.

I can tell you that about 28 percent of our clients are physicians or are employed in the health care field. These are the people who know firsthand about the value and promise of umbilical cord blood, and have made the choice to save it for the future. ALL of the facts are available online at www.cordblood.com.

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-- Stephen Grant
VP, Corporate Communications
Cordblood Registry

This article seemed to denigrate the entire idea of cord blood storage. There are many reasons to store cord blood. In the case of our family, the circumstances of my daughter's birth significantly raised her chances of developing leukemia later in life. It would have been idiotic to disregard the oncologist's advice and not store the blood. Storage does not need to be expensive, any blood bank can store cord blood. $300 + $75 yearly storage fee seems like a very small price for a life to me.

-- Gretchen Wendelin

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We have a cord blood bank in New Zealand, and I know there's one in Australia, and they're free. You donate your child's cord blood and they keep it in the hope that those stem cells will help someone -- usually someone else. It's run (I think) by the blood banks. Oh yes, they're free too. Thank heavens for socialized health care, even the pale imitation variety we have now.

-- Anne Midwinter

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As the parent of a child who received a transplant of unrelated cord blood as a treatment for leukemia, I would like to applaud Alix Christie's call for prospective parents to consider donating their baby's cord-blood to a public cord blood bank as opposed to a private one.

In October of 1993, after failing to go into remission following chemotherapy and after failing to find a match of bone marrow through a search of family members and the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry, my 10-year-old son was facing a death sentence until his doctors at Duke University Medical Center presented the possibility of a transplant of unrelated cord blood. Jack was one of the first five patients to undergo the procedure. The transplant put him into remission.

While he relapsed a year later and ultimately succumbed to the disease, the decision of at least one parent to donate their baby's cord blood to a public blood bank brought my son and his family the priceless gifts of hope and time. Hope for a cure and time with friends and family, an additional year of life, each day of which we savored beyond all measure. I would urge anyone who has the opportunity to consider donating their baby's cord blood to a public blood bank. Your gift could mean more than you could possibly imagine.

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-- Sarah Sullivan


Salon Staff

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