What to Know about Cord Blood Banking: A Comprehensive Overview

Last Updated on December 19, 2020

There are so many things to think about when you have a child. One of them is the blood from your baby’s umbilical cord. It used to be thrown away at birth, but now, many parents store the blood for the future health of their child. So if you’ve heard about banking umbilical cord blood, you might be wondering what it entails and whether it’s right for you and your family.

What to Know about Cord Blood Banking?

Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta after childbirth. In the near future, the transfer of cells from mother to fetus will take place in order to strengthen the immune system of mother and child for childbirth.

This makes umbilical cord blood a rich source of stem cells and other cells of the immune system during childbirth. Cord blood banking is the process of collecting the cord blood, extracting and cryogenically freezing its stem cells and other cells of the immune system for potential medical use in the future.

What Is Cord Blood Banking Used For?

Cord blood has an abundance of stem cells and immune system cells, and the medical uses of these cells has been expanding at a rapid pace. As these cells help the body re-generate tissues and systems, cord blood is often referred to as a regenerative medicine.

Umbilical cord blood is currently approved by the FDA to treat nearly 80 diseases, and cord blood treatments have been performed more than 35,000 times worldwide to treat cancers (including lymphoma and leukemia), anemias, inherited metabolic disorders and some solid tumors and orthopedic repair.

Researchers are also exploring how cord blood has the ability to cross the blood–brain barrier and reduce inflammation, which may be instrumental in treating conditions that have been untreatable up to this point. The most exciting of these are autism, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s.

What are the Benefits of Cord Blood Banking for the Family?

Because the body’s immune system is designed to detect and eliminate what it believes to be external contaminants, stem cells and other cells of the immune system cannot be transfused into just anyone. For stem cell transfusions of any type, the body’s immune system can mistakenly start attacking the patient’s own body. This is known as graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) and is a major problem after transplantation. GvHD can be isolated and minimal, but it can also be acute, chronic and even fatal.

To prevent graft-versus-host disease and help ensure engraftment, the stem cells being transfused need to match the cells of the patient completely or to a certain degree (depending on what is being treated). Cord blood taken from a baby’s umbilical cord is always a perfect match for the baby. In addition, immediate family members are more likely to also be a match for the banked cord blood. Siblings have a 25 percent chance of being a perfect match and a 50 percent chance of being a partial match. Parents, who each provide half the markers used in matching, have a 100% chance of being a partial match. Even aunts, uncles, grandparents and other extended family members have a higher probability of being a match and could possibly benefit from the banked cord blood.

How Does Cord Blood Banking Work?

While banking cord blood is a new experience for many parents, it is simple. After all, most mothers worry about how labor will turn out, and they also don’t want to worry about the details of collecting, processing, and cryopreserving their baby’s umbilical cord blood. Fortunately, the healthcare professional and the cord blood bank do most of the work. Here are the steps followed in cord blood banking:

  • The cord blood bank sends you a collection kit. Kits are stored at room temperature.
  • The cord blood collection kit goes with the expectant parents to the delivery center.
  • Upon admission, the mother’s blood is collected to be tested for any infectious diseases as mandated by federal regulations.
  • Upon birth but before the placenta is delivered, the healthcare provider will clamp and cut the umbilical cord as normal.
  • Remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta is approx. 40–120 milliliters of cord blood. The healthcare provider will extract the cord blood from the umbilical cord at no risk or harm to the baby or mother.
  • The collection bag with the baby’s cord blood and the vials with the mother’s blood are placed back inside the collection kit.
  • Parents call a toll-free number on the collection kit to have a medical courier—any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week—arrange for its transportation to the cord blood bank. (When the medical courier delivers the cord blood collection kit to the cord blood bank, it is quickly processed to ensure the continued viability of the stem cells and immune system cells found in the cord blood).

There are two types of banks that store cord blood:

  • Public Banks collect donated cord blood for research or for use by anyone who may need it. There is usually no charge associated with this service. After birth, blood is collected, anonymously marked, and sent to a public bank to potentially save the life of another child one day. If you choose this option and your child or a family member later develops a disease that requires a stem cell transplant for treatment, you won’t be able to obtain the donation you made to the bank.
  • Private Banks store cord blood for personal use by the family. There is a fee associated with this service. People who have a family history of disease that can be treated with stem cell transplants sometimes consider this option. Less commonly, people choose to privately bank their newborn’s cord blood on the off chance that someday their child or a sick family member could be treated with it. This practice isn’t recommended, however, since the costs associated with it are high and the chances of a family member ever using the cord blood are slim.

Many doctors and researchers support the preservation of umbilical cord blood, mainly because of the promise that stem cell research holds for the future. Most of us would have little use for stem cells now, but research into using them to treat diseases continues and the future looks promising. If you’d like to donate your child’s umbilical cord blood, talk to your obstetrician or midwife or contact the hospital or maternity ward where your baby will be born. It’s best to start the process early in your second trimester so that you have enough time to register for this service.

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