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Umbilical Cord Blood Industry Matures

Frances Verter's first child Shai died before reaching her fifth birthday following a lifelong fight with cancer. When her second and third children were born, Verter decided to// collect and store the blood from their umbilical cords, an option increasingly being presented to expecting parents around the nation.

"I decided to bank the cord blood because I knew it could be used for transplants and had experienced firsthand how hard it can be to find a matching donor," Verter wrote on a Web site that she runs as a guide for parents.

Cord blood is a rich source of stem cells, the building blocks that produce blood and can be transformed into other cell types. The growing number of parents who bank their children's cord blood believe it is a form of biological insurance.

"I didn't expect to have another child with cancer, but I wanted to give my children every possible form of health insurance," wrote Verter, who lives near Brookeville, Md.

Cord blood banks, particularly private ones that allow parents to store it for family members, are a growing industry, hoping to take advantage of legislation to promote cord blood donations. There are now 10 states that have passed laws either encouraging or mandating that physicians inform parents of the option. Another 12 are expected to consider legislation this year.

But public health officials argue the chances that a child or family member will need the blood is minuscule. Instead, they encourage prospective parents to donate cord blood to public banks to make it available to all patients who need it.

"Private cord blood banks target parents at an emotionally vulnerable time when the reality is most conditions that might be helped by cord blood stem cells already exist in the infant's cord blood," the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a statement in early January.

The private banks disagree, seeing a need for their services.

"We consider this a very important decision to be made by parents," said Fred Fitzsimmons of ViviCells International LLC, which operates its cord blood subsidiary as NeoCells LLC. "You can see where there is ample room for growth as we begin to discover more abnormalities that are treatable."

Source-Bio-Bio Technology

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