WHEN Alfred Bartsch was born threemonths ago, his parents took an extrastep in hopes of guaranteeing his futurehealth, and perhaps their own. Alfred wasthe first baby in Costa Rica to have hisumbilical cord blood cryogenically frozenin the new cord blood bank Provida.Although his parents and the doctorwho froze the blood hope they neverhave to use it, Alfred’s life could be savedfrom leukemia or other cancers byunfreezing the blood – which Providasays can be kept frozen up to 300 yearswithout any damage.The technology, which is based onthe high count of stem cells found inblood from the umbilical cord and placenta,is quickly gaining popularity inCosta Rica. By February, Provida – thefirst cord blood bank in Central America –expects to have frozen the blood of morethan 90 babies.With an initial cost of $1,000 and anadditional $100 a year, parents considerthe treatment similar to buying insuranceagainst future illnesses.In addition to successfully treatingleukemia in children, studies releasedlast month suggest cord blood can alsobe used to treat leukemia in adults.Cord blood is taken right after birthand, using special equipment and liquidnitrogen, slowly frozen. If needed, theblood can be thawed, taken to a hospitalthat treats cancer, and injected directlyinto the body, according to Dr. EduardoGlenn of Provida, a private Costa Ricanfirm. The stem cells repopulate the bonemarrow and enable patients to producehealthy blood cells.Cord blood has the advantage ofbeing relatively non-controversial anddoes not need to be matched as closelyas bone marrow.Scientists are also researching theuse of cord blood for treatments ofAlzheimer’s, diabetes, Parkinson’s, multiplesclerosis and other illnesses.While there is the possibility of findingcord blood matches among strangers,the blood has shown the best results withthe donor and immediate family, Glennsaid.“It is an opportunity for (the child) butit also can help the family,” said VirginiaAvilés, who froze the cord blood of herson Antonio, who is now one month old.Interested parents are invited to visitthe Provida facilities and laboratory inBarrio Escalante, in east San José. Formore information, call 234-3431.