Is it worthwhile to save the cord blood and tissue?

post by Alexei · 2020-01-11T21:52:24.256Z · LW · GW · 6 comments

This is a question post.

My wife and I are expecting a baby this May. I only recently learned about this, but apparently there is an option to save the cord blood and tissue during the delivery. This seems potentially very useful, so I'm wondering if anyone has done research into this or has found trustworthy, informative resources on this topic.

My current understanding is that this tissue has a lot of stem cells. And the stem cells are useful for all sorts of medical procedures, and are even more likely to be used in the future. But currently we don't have an easy (or cheap?) way to get them.

Broad questions I have:


answer by alahonua · 2020-01-12T01:46:45.770Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

1. Not very valuable. Handling and storage costs far outweigh acquisition costs.

2. Unmatched, easy; well matched, somewhat difficult.

3. Generally it depends on the specific inherited immune characteristics of mother and child, similar to these factors in kidney donation.

4. For decades, yes, for a lifetime no.

5/6 No and sort of yes.

If you are going to donate cord blood for others, as a humanitarian thing, check with your OB/GYN about whether they know who would need to be there to ship the donation.

If you are going to save it for family use, I would do so only if you are aware of a known risk requiring use of such a donation in the baby or family, such as an inherited blood disorder or similar risk factor. If there is none, the cost-effectiveness of banking with a commercial outfit is poor unless you have inexpensive access to a liquid nitrogen-level freezer for long term storage. If the family has such an inherited disorder, check with the physicians treating it for instructions.

answer by Alexei · 2020-01-11T22:09:34.448Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One source I looked at was:

Some highlights:

  • There are three public cord blood banks in CA, but non in the bay area. So donating might be hard if that's where you're delivering.
  • The expected cost of cryo preserving is a bit under $2,000 upfront and $150 / yr.
  • It costs about $30,000 to obtain a cord blood collection from a public bank, and that cost is charged to the patient’s health insurance.
  • Looks like the stem cells could be used by the family members too. (Assuming it's a match, I'm guessing?). But actually the child might not be able to use them. (Is it only while they are a child?)
  • The main advantage of cord blood is that it does not have to be exactly matched to the patient like transplants from an adult donor.
  • In the United States, about 80% of cord blood donations are discarded.
  • In the United States, the net probability that a child will need any type of stem cell transplant by age 20 is 3 in 5,000 or .06%.
answer by dvasya · 2020-01-12T05:45:36.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


If you're trying to be homo economicus and maximize your expected utility, probably it's not worth it. But if you're not, you can still do it! We did (blood and tissue).

  • How valuable are the stem cells right now
    • not very valuable
  • and how valuable are they expected to be in the future?
    • very valuable but that's been the expectation for a long time and yet here we are
  • How hard is it to get stem cells for yourself / your child right now vs in the future?
    • anything you harvest later on will have had more cellular divisions in its history, so in some (not yet practical) sense this opportunity is unique
  • Will the collected stem cells be only useful for the baby or the mother too?
    • right now probably neither, but the kind of application you might hope for in the future would be benefiting the baby
  • Can we reasonably expect the cryo companies to last long enough and not go under?
    • sure - but if they have an accident you're also not losing much expected utility, either
  • Have you had experience donating it?
    • no
  • Have you had experience storing it?
    • yes


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comment by Viliam · 2020-01-12T20:57:38.339Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is also the question of how soon to cut the cord. The reason for cutting it a bit later is that the blood from the cord still keeps flowing into the baby. Unfortunately, I completely forgot why those few extra drops are supposed to be so important, but I was told the reason years ago and it sounded just as important as the reason for storing the cord blood.

comment by CanDo · 2020-01-15T20:39:19.748Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are a lot of great points here. A couple more to consider:

With private banking, while you do pay the fees for storage, your baby's chances for a match to itself are 100%, and between 25%-75% for baby's immediate biological family ( mom, dad, sibling). And, you don't have the large fees associated with pulling out a "withdraw" as you do with public banking because you are already paying the small annual fee for storage.

People often think about the big diseases down the road, but don't forget about the more common things that can happen during the birthing process such as lack of oxygen that causes issues which are being resolved currently using baby's own stem cells.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2020-01-12T21:01:35.050Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The odds of someone needing a blood stem cell transplant of the sort that it is immediately obvious that cord blood is good for are not very high.

However, if you do you preserve stem cells and then enter them into a registry of stem cell donors, it is conceivable that you could wind up helping other people who need matched blood stem cells without the cost of extraction on an adult which is an extremely painful bone needle or a dangerous series of drugs.