Monday, September 8, 2008

A Healthcare Plan for Cord Blood Storage: Not Economically Viable?

Umbilical cord blood is probably the most ethical source of stem cells for medical research and therapeutic use. Some healthcare providers have been flirting with a scheme to store one for a fee. Another unnecessary medical expense?

By: Vanessa Uy

Stymied by the ethical row over the extraction of stem cells from early trimester aborted fetuses, medical science has started to search them from other sources. Recently, the medical community has found out that umbilical cord blood can be a viable source of stem cells. After learning from this discovery, many healthcare providers from around the world had offered their services – for a fee of course – to cryogenically store your newly born baby’s umbilical cord blood for up to 20 years. The procedure usually involves cryogenically cooling the umbilical cord blood to be stored with liquid nitrogen for later use as a source of therapeutic stem cells. Does this procedure remind you of something?

In Phoenix, Arizona a company called ALCOR became rich – but mostly famous - during the 1980’s by offering a “medical procedure” of storing someone’s recently diseased loved one cryogenically for “posterity”. Posterity is somewhat open to interpretation on what the company hopes to accomplish. It truly means sometime in the far-off future when medical science advance to a level were it is possible to revive and eventually cure what caused this certain person to die of in the first place. And by the way, ALCOR charges 300,000 dollars for a whole body cryogenic storage and 100,000 dollars for cryogenically storing just the head since according to them a new body can be cloned. This was in “when Ronald Reagan was still leader of the free world “ US dollars by the way. Given that majority in the medical community – until now – has doubts about ALCOR ‘s fiscal and medico-legal practicality of the services they are offering, should we be storing our newly born baby’s cord blood cryogenically for possible future use?

Given the relatively small volume of umbilical cord blood that would be stored, it would be way cheaper to store it cryogenically for 20 or so years compared to storing a recently deceased person after being prepped-up for cryogenic storage for an indefinite period of time (possibly for centuries?). And given that advances in stem cell therapy has been unnecessarily hampered by the politics surrounding its ethical implications. Medical research into stem cell therapy has been incrementally advancing in the past few years despite the challenges of demagoguery and petty political lobbying. The expense of storing umbilical cord blood for possible future use could certainly be a worthwhile investment.

Despite of the possible advantages, cryogenically storing umbilical cord blood for possible future use still has a sizable number of detractors in the medical community. Expert in the medical field has doubts whether the most common application of this stem cell resource – childhood leukemia therapy – is a good use of this very limited resource. It is already well known that a child’s own previously stored umbilical cord blood can’t be used for leukemia treatment because this form of blood cancer has a very high rate of reoccurrence. The previously stored umbilical cord blood would just simply provide temporary – albeit somewhat pricey – relief. But who knows what future developments might bring. And also there is a likely possibility that a number of children will be “lucky” enough not to be afflicted with diseases that necessitates the use of their previously stored umbilical cord blood for treatment.

Whether the practice is a waste of money or a very wise investment for the future, it Is ultimately up to the customer whether the services provided by certain healthcare companies to cryogenically store their newly born baby’s umbilical cord blood really is worth it. The most likely problems that would likely come up with regards to this issue is that not enough customers who avail themselves of this service didn’t get an informed enough consent in justifying their decision.

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