I heard recently that pregnant women can now bank their amniotic fluid in addition to the baby's cord blood. Why? And how does that work?

Biocell Center in Medford, Mass., began offering last year to freeze amniotic fluid for future use, bringing the European technology to the United States. Amniotic fluid is a concentrated source of mesenchymal cells, which can develop into skin, bone, knee cartilage, even cardiac muscle, says Kate Torchilin, chief executive of Biocell. Only women already having amniotic fluid extracted for amniocentesis or other prenatal testing are candidates. The doctor would extract the equivalent of a couple of extra teaspoonfuls of fluid. The amniotic fluid can't be collected at birth because it's not a sterile sample at that point.

Pregnant women are likely to be more familiar with umbilical cord blood preservation; cord blood preserved at birth is usually used to treat blood-related conditions such as leukemia when a patient might need a bone-marrow transplant.

The cost for amniotic fluid preservation is $1,650 for the first year, which includes preparation. After that, it's $120 a year. The company will work with families who can't afford it, Torchilin says. She recommends talking to your obstetrician about whether there's a benefit depending on your family health history, though it is so new, some doctors aren't aware of it.

"I don't know that that offers any other advantage over obtaining it from the cord after the baby is born," says Dr. Natalie Meirowitz, chief of maternal fetal medicine for Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

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