You’re expecting a baby, and everything is in place if something should go wrong: health insurance, home insurance, life insurance. How about biological insurance? Vancouver’s Lifebank Cryogenics now offers new parents exactly this, giving them the chance to freeze their baby’s umbilical cord-containing the all-important stem cells in the umbilical blood-in case that child needs fresh immune-system cells to fight off leukemia or some genetic disorder.
Blood stem cells from the umbilical cord provide an alternative to painful bone marrow transplants. But scientists are on the brink of a host of new applications-such as using stem cells to repair heart tissue or to create insulin in diabetics-which add to the value of the frozen cells, since they are viable for at least 15 years. Lifebank is one of six stem cell banks in Canada, is ac-
credited by the American Association of Blood Banks, and has just under 3,000 cords in its vaults. The cells are collected right after birth, with no risk to mother or child, and sent to a storage facility, where they are frozen at a controlled rate until they reach -150° C.
Alberta is the only province so far to set up a free public cord blood bank where donated umbilical cells from across Canada are on deposit and made available as needed. The difference with private banks is that the cells are stored exclusively for your child or family, ensuring an exact or, in the case of siblings, close genetic match. However, the security comes at a price: $1,000 for the first year at Lifebank, and then $125 annually for storage. An extra insurance cost for those first, already expensive childhood years, but one that could well be worth the premium. K.M.
JUVENILE DIABETES A year’s supply: 1,460 needles, 1,800 test strips and 144 vials of insulin. Average cost: $3,695.
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