After the Nobel Prize, who needs cord blood?


The 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to act like stem cells. The technical lingo for these Induced Pluripotent Stem cells is "iPS". The media just love iPS... there is a popular myth that we don't need to save any other stem cells anymore, neither embryonic nor cord blood, etc., because in the future we will just zap any scrap of body part into a stem cell if we need one.

Like most claims that sound too good to be true, this just isn't true. It isn't true now, and it probably won't ever be true.  We still need cord blood banking right now, especially donations, and stored cord blood will most likely continue to be a good investment for the future.

Although the concept of inducing a mature cell to act like a stem cell is very exciting, the practical reality is that iPS cells have a disturbing tendency to mutate in all sorts of ways, including turning into cancer cells. Obviously it would take extensive development and testing before iPS cells could be safely used in therapies for patients. An often neglected reality is that the laboratory process to make iPS cells is very costly. To culture clinical grade iPS cells that match a patient would cost about 100 times more than just saving cord blood stem cells from the person's birth.

Meanwhile, cord blood donations are needed right now to be the match that can save the life of a transplant patient. Families that want the medical insurance of banking stem cells should consider the blood left in the umbilical cord at birth, where a couple of ounces of blood holds tens of millions of blood-forming stem cells.

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