Sure, new parents get showered with adorable gifts and well-intended advice, but then the downpour of unsolicited marketing arrives: for baby gear, for college saving plans, and now, in Jordan, for baby blood banking. An unusual building is rising in the desert outside Amman, all swooping curves and gaping windows. A dewy-cheeked newborn graces the hoarding that skirts the job site, a single word painted across the panels: BabyCord. The provocative advertising targets hundreds of people in the cars and trucks speeding past on the airport highway.
It took an internet hunt and candid chat with two expectant co-workers to discover that the building is the new Jordan headquarters of BabyCord, a blood bank affiliated with Boston-based New England Cord Blood Banking.
Their banking program for umbilical cord blood is pitched as a one-time opportunity to save your newborn’s cord stem cells as a hedge against future diseases; a panacea against untold illnesses that may someday be treatable via this burgeoning biological field.
Stem cells have unique capability to develop into other cell types. They can grow and rejuvenate specific cells or tissue and can be used to treat more than 80 acute and chronic diseases.
Umbilical cord blood stem cells are smart, powerful and, unlike embryonic stem cells, they’re controversy-free (it’s halal and Vatican-approved). Proponents cite three qualities that differentiate them from other stem cell sources:
• Less risk of complications when transplanted (compared to bone marrow)
• Immediately available: earlier treatment minimizes disease progression
• Cryogenic storage protects the nascent cells from aging and exposure to
environmental factors and viruses that can decrease functionality
Harvesting cord blood is a safe and painless procedure that usually occurs in the minutes after birth. After the umbilical cord is cut, all remaining cord blood is collected, packaged into the handy kit that’s supplied to your doctor or mid-wife pre-delivery, then shipped to a laboratory where it’s processed and frozen in cryogenic storage tanks. All of the processed cells are preserved in your personal account: nothing is withheld for bank use or release to third parties.
Baby’s own stem cells are a perfect match for his/her blood type, and the likelihood of a match for siblings and parents is also high: probabilities run 1:2 for a parent and 1:4 for a sibling.
The BabyCord website states that “while the science is still fairly new, according to published research, blood-forming stem cells stored up to 15 years can be used in transplants. In fact, most research indicates that stem cells slow-rate frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen are viable for an indefinite period.”
Founded in 2005, BabyCord Jordan is the first center in the entire Arab world to provide this service. They also operate in Cyprus and Turkey. To date, they’ve banked cord blood for more than 20,000 Jordanian clients at an annual first-year fee of about $2,100. Thereafter, storage fees cost about $210 per year.
My mom saved curls from our first haircuts and handfuls of our baby teeth: mementos of childhood with no intrinsic value beyond scaring the wits out of us kids when we’d snoop in her dresser. Is this just a natural progression? Appealing to parental instinct to care for our children? Is it fear-mongering to a very susceptible slice of the population? Or is it smartly offering scientific currency against an uncertain medical future ?
Check out their FaceBook page and draw your own conclusion.
Image of infant by Shutterstock