In short, public cord blood banking is the donation of a newborn’s umbilical cord blood to be stored for anyone in need or used for research purposes. Private cord blood banking stores the cord blood exclusively for the donor or their immediate family.
Umbilical cord blood and cord tissue stem cells are precious resources with life-saving potential for your family or other families in need.
While most people agree it’s a shame to discard it as medical waste, the question of whether to bank your baby’s cord blood privately or donate it to a public bank depends on a lot of personal factors, including your ethnicity, genetics, budget, and the availability of public banking in your area.
Here, we take a deep dive into the difference between public and private cord banking so you can make the decision that’s best for your family.
What Is Public Cord Blood Banking?
Public cord blood banks receive donated cord blood for use in life-saving stem cell transplant treatments. They do not accept cord tissue. NMDP (National Marrow Donor Program, formerly known as Be The Match) is a not-for-profit agency acting as a registry for the cord blood donated to public banks.
Cord blood donated to a public bank is saved for any patient who needs a stem cell transplant that is a match, or for research. In other words, it is not reserved for the baby or family that donated it. In fact, it may not be saved at all: 80% of all donated cord blood in the U.S. is discarded [*].
There are more than 80 FDA-approved cord blood stem cell treatments for diseases including heritable blood disorders such as leukemia, metabolic disorders, cancers, and immune disorders. Researchers are evaluating cord blood to treat many other diseases as well, including Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, to name a few [*].
The FDA considers publicly banked cord blood a drug and regulates it strictly. Public banks must meet the FDA’s stringent standards. The donated cells must meet a quantity threshold and be free of disease or contamination as well.
Only half the private cord banks in the U.S. meet the FDA’s rigorous criteria for evaluation and storage. MiracleCord is one of the banks that meets the FDA’s criteria.
The procedure for collecting cord blood from the umbilical cord for public bank donation after the infant’s birth is the same as for private cord blood banking. It doesn’t matter whether you deliver vaginally or via C-section.
After the unit arrives at the public bank, it will be examined to ensure it meets the cell threshold for storage. If there are not enough cells, the public bank may discard the collection or sell the unit to a research facility. The cells will be checked to ensure they’re free of contamination, tissue typed and listed on the NMDP registry, then frozen and stored [*].
Many hospitals do not collect cord blood for public banking purposes. If you plan to donate your baby’s cord blood, talk to your care team about your decision, contact your hospital to see if they collect cord blood for public donation, and then contact the public cord bank they work with directly. You should do this by 34 weeks’ gestation at the latest to ensure your hospital has the bank’s collection kit available. (You can also check here to see if your delivery hospital participates in a cord blood donor program.)
Most public banks will ask for a health history and ensure you meet their guidelines for donation. For instance, if you have tattoos, are having twins or have had a disease that someone can get through blood-forming cells (hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV), you will not be eligible to donate your baby’s cord blood to a public bank [*].
If your donation is accepted, you will be required to sign a consent form allowing the public bank to sell the donated cord blood to anyone needing it, sell it for research, or discard it [*].
Costs associated with the collection, transport, and storage of the cord blood unit are covered by the public bank to whom you are donating; Public banks are supported by federal and private funding. However, the cost to retrieve suitably matched cord blood stem cells from a public bank on average is around $45,000, according to NMDP [*]. This amount can vary by state, and there are also additional costs associated with HLA typing, recruitment typing, confirmatory typing, infectious disease testing, shipping and logistics.
While the NMDP registry includes access to 39 million potential donors all over the world, the likelihood of finding a match in a public bank varies greatly by ethnicity [*].
According to NMDP, a cord blood unit that is identified for a patient in need can be shipped quickly, however the search time to try to find a suitable match can take months. Some cord blood units are ready to ship, with confirmatory typing and release/potency testing completed. In that scenario, the cord blood unit can ship as soon as the paperwork is completed, the dry shipper is prepared, and the unit is pulled from storage. If HLA typing and testing is not completed, then it will take additional time to prepare a cord blood unit for shipping.
What Is Private Cord Blood Banking?
Private cord blood banks like MiracleCord collect, test, and store cord blood and cord tissue. Customers pay initial collection costs and an annual or long-term storage fee for their child’s stem cells. The cells are stored exclusively for the child and its family.
Privately stored cord blood is used to treat the same blood diseases, cancers, immune disorders, and metabolic diseases as cord blood stored in public banks. Cord tissue — which public banks do not store — has a type of stem cell (mesenchymal stem cell or MSCs) that show great promise in regenerative medicine.
While some contend that one may never use one’s own cells because they carry the same genetic problem at the root of the disease being treated, autologous stem cell transplants (using one’s own cells) are commonly used for patients undergoing cancer treatments likely to damage bone marrow, like Hodgkin’s lymphoma, myeloma, testicular cancer and other plasma cell disorders [*].
In other instances, gene therapy is combined with autologous stem cell transplants, using the patient's own genetically modified stem cells to cure diseases, such as the breakthrough cure for patients suffering from sickle cell anemia [*]. In this treatment, patients have the best of both worlds: a perfect HLA matched unit to eliminate GVHD and a corrected stem cell. It’s likely many more such autologous stem cell treatments will arise in the next decade.
Allogeneic stem cell transplants — siblings have the best chance of matching — are commonly used to treat heritable disorders. There are even instances when IVF is used to engineer a savior sibling whose stem cells can treat another sibling's disease. The more children in a family with saved cord blood, the more likely one is to have a suitable match [*].
After enrolling and paying an initial fee, private banks supply you with a collection kit with medical supplies and instructions for the care provider. Once collected, some cord blood banks will have their courier pick up the collection kit from your hospital. Other cord blood banks expect the parent to pack the collection kit and bring it to a FedEx or UPS location to ship it. MiracleCord uses a medical courier that is available 24/7/365 to pick up your collection kit from your birthing facility.
Not all collection kits are the same, however; Many do not utilize an FDA-approved cord blood collection bag that is sterile and safe for use inside the sterile field for C-sections. The anti-coagulants and solutions that protect the sample from contamination can vary as well.
Private cord blood banks will test the cord blood, cord tissue, and maternal blood samples to ensure they are free from contamination and disease and there are enough stem cells to be stored. Private banks differ on the procedures they use to evaluate and process stem cells. Make sure the bank you choose has a lab that is FDA-registered and AABB-accredited.
When you enroll with MiracleCord a $200 deposit is billed to you, which covers the cost of the medical supplies in the StemCare® Collection Kit and shipping of the kit to you. After our lab receives your baby’s specimens, we perform comprehensive testing on your baby’s cord blood, cord tissue and on your maternal blood. In the event your child’s stem cells are found to not be viable and fit for processing and storage, you will not be billed for anything more than the $200 deposit.
MiracleCord provides a Certificate of Storage with a lab report detailing your baby’s cord blood within 4-6 weeks after your baby’s birth.
Your baby’s stem cells will be available to your family very quickly when saved in a private bank.
The cost of private banking and storage plans vary widely. Typically there are initial fees for testing and processing, which range between $900 - $1,800, and then a storage fee which can be paid annually for $150-400/year, or prepaid storage for 18-20 years, or prepaid storage 60-80 years.
For reference, a lifetime (78 years) storage plan for cord blood with MiracleCord (about $5,000) is far less than the cost of retrieving stem cells from a public bank should you need them, which can average around $45,000.
But will the stem cells work? Some private banks offer a quality guarantee. MiracleCord’s Quality Guarantee states that if your child’s cord blood unit stored with MiracleCord fails to engraft in a stem cell treatment, it will pay up to $100,000 toward procuring an alternative source of stem cells.
The key benefit of private cord blood banking is ensuring you have matching stem cells if your child or a sibling should need them. Full siblings have a 75% chance of being a suitable match. Odds of having a match increase with more siblings [*].
Most private banks can get your stored stem cells to your transplant facility very quickly. MiracleCord can cryogenically ship the cord blood and tissue anywhere in the world. We will walk you through the simple release procedure when the stem cells are needed for transplant.
Public vs. Private Cord Blood Banking
The chart below summarizes the key differences between public and private cord banking.
|Public Cord Blood Bank
|Private Cord Blood Bank
|Odds of Being Saved
Is Private Cord Blood Banking Worth It?
For many families, it comes down to calculating the cost of their peace of mind in light of the likelihood they may need those stem cells to treat a family member, and the low odds of finding a match from a public bank.
The MiracleCord Story
MiracleCord was founded precisely because public banks cannot serve every family’s need when it matters most. Founder and CEO Mark Locascio had a close family member diagnosed with leukemia at 39 who died a year after being diagnosed because, despite an exhaustive search, her doctors could not find a stem cell match in a public bank and thus could not treat her [*].
Today, MiracleCord offers cutting edge technology and storage plans to make private banking affordable for families who need it. Discover why MiracleCord was awarded Best U.S. Cord Blood Bank from Global Health & Pharma, and download our Free Info Kit to learn more.
The Bottom Line
Public vs. private cord blood banking… which is best? The truth is, they both can be good. It really depends on your genetics, ethnicity, budget, eligibility, availability, and peace of mind.
One thing is for sure: The future looks bright for cord blood and cord tissue stem cell therapy. Whether you opt to discard, donate, or bank privately with MiracleCord, we hope your family will never need a stem cell treatment, however, scientists predict 1-in-3 people will need a stem cell transplant by age 70, so the chances are actually quite high [*].
DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION ON THIS WEBSITE IS NOT INTENDED TO BE USED AS MEDICAL ADVICE.The materials and information contained on the MiracleCord website is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to, and does not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis, and should not be used as such. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. If you are seeking personal medical advice, you should consult with a licensed physician. Always consult with a qualified health care provider regarding a medical condition.