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One of the many questions we are asked by expectant parents who are considering banking their baby’s cord blood is: what are the odds of needing a cord blood transplant in the future?

In order to answer this question, we must consider not only the types of treatments currently available, but also emerging cell therapies currently in clinical trial.

Stem Cell Transplantation Today

While cord blood transplants have been in use since 1988, it was not until late 2011 that the US FDA finally licensed cord blood transplants for most of the diseases on the standard therapy list.

The most recent attempt to estimate the rate of stem cell transplantation, which were published in 2008 by Netfield at al, estimate the chances of a person having a stem cell transplant (not just needing one) by age 70 is approximately 1 in 200. The study highlights the fact that the rates of cancer increase with age; therefore the vast majority of transplant patients are older adults. The probability that a child will have a stem cell transplant by age 10 is much lower (approximately 1 in 5,000). Currently the usage rate for family banks within Canada is 1 in 4,900.

Emerging Applications of Stem Cells

Cord blood stem cells are currently being used to treat over 80 different diseases. In the future, this number could decrease if pharmaceutical treatments are discovered. Likewise, these odds will improve if additional treatment applications are revealed.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been dedicated to cord blood stem cell research worldwide over the past number of years. Most scientists and transplant physicians are optimistic that new treatment applications will result. The use of cord blood is being researched in the treatment of common diseases such as diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injuries. Cord blood use in any one of these diseases will clearly increase the odds of using a sample.

“What is most notable about these emerging therapies is that they all treat conditions that are not rare; conditions that a child is much more likely to experience than a stem cell transplant. The second important difference is that, whereas stem cell transplants require large cord blood collections, the emerging therapies can be successful with small collections,” reads the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood.

“Family cord blood banking is a form of ‘health insurance’, where parents make an investment based on what is known now, as a hedge against future developments.”

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