The Benefits Of Preserving Your Baby's Umbilical Cord Blood

Did you know that your baby's umbilical cord could serve as a lifeline more than once? Sure, you know that the umbilical cord sustains your baby in utero, but the stem cells contained within that cord could be instrumental in treating disease later in life.
Marla Hardee Milling

The key is, you have only one small window -- about 15 minutes, right after delivery -- to save those stem cells. Is cord blood storage right for your family? What about cord blood donation? Read on for answers some of your questions.

What is cord blood, and what are stem cells?

Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta following birth. It contains precious stem cells -- the building blocks of your blood and immune system that reside primarily in your bone marrow. These "mother cells" reproduce into red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body; white blood cells, which fight infection; and platelets, which aid in clotting.

What diseases can be treated by cord blood?

You've probably heard about bone marrow transplants for cancer patients. Chemotherapy and radiation, which destroy the cancer cells, also destroy the good stem cells. Doctors perform transplants of these stem cells to the patient's bone marrow in hopes that they will reproduce and create a new blood and immune system for the patient. For a bone marrow transplant to work, there must be a successful match between donor and recipient. The odds of such a match are only 25% within a family, compared with a cord blood match of up to 50 percent.

Extracting bone marrow is an expensive and painful procedure, as doctors extract the marrow from bones with a needle and syringe. By contrast, patients who receive cord blood transplants may have a higher survival rate, a higher quality of life and fewer complications such as Graft vs Host Disease (GHVD).

Diseases treatable with cord blood fall into the following main categories:

  • Acute leukemias
  • Chronic leukemias
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Stem cell disorders
  • Myeloproliferative disorders
  • Lymphoproliferative disorders
  • Phagocyte disorders
  • Liposomal storage diseases
  • Histiocytic disorders
  • Inherited erythrocyte abnormalities
  • Congenital (inherited) immune system disorders
  • Other inherited disorders
  • Inherited platelet abnormalities
  • Plasma cell disorders
  • Other malignancies such as breast cancer
Additionally, researchers are now investigating cord blood stem cells for answers to medical challenges such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes and muscular dystrophy, to name a few.

"The current applications and promising research utilizing UCB stem cell therapies underscore the importance of cord blood preservation. We are committed to ensuring that all expectant parents are educated about the value of UCB stem cells and their readily-available option to safeguard them," says Marc Beer, CEO of Viacord and ViaCel.

How is the cord blood collected? Will it hurt my baby?

Few things in life are 100% safe, but this is one of them. After delivery, your health care practitioner will clamp and cut the umbilical cord. Then, the cord is either discarded with the placenta as biological waste, or the doctor can use a syringe to remove the blood that remains in the cord. This process does not affect birthing procedures in any way, nor does it have any effect on your baby. The collection usually takes place before the placenta is delivered.

Normally, when you register with a cord blood bank, you'll receive a collection kit that your health care practitioner will use to collect the blood. The syringes will be packed into the insulated kit for immediate shipping to the bank. It should arrive no later than 36 hours after collection. Also, don't refrigerate the blood or leave it in a hot car -- stem cells should be kept at room temperature.

How much does it cost?

The fees vary from registry to registry, but in general, you'll pay an enrollment fee, processing fee and then an annual storage fee thereafter. Additional fees apply for rush/emergency kits, so it's best to plan ahead.

How is the cord blood stored, and how long can it be stored?

When the kits arrive at the cord blood company, the stem cells are cryosheathed in vials and stored in liquid nitrogen. Standards are also in place to protect against potential cross-contamination of samples.

According to "Guidelines for Collection, Processing and Storage of Cord Blood Stem Cells" published by the New York State Department of Health, "There is no evidence at present that [cord blood stem] cells stored at minus 196 degrees Celsius (in liquid nitrogen) in an undisturbed manner lose either in vitro-determined viability or biological activity. Therefore, at the current time, no expiration date need be assigned to cord blood stored continuously under liquid nitrogen."

Are there special benefits of cord blood storage for ethnic families?

Yes. Many ethnic families have a harder time finding stem cell donors. That creates a special concern, since many genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia are more common in some ethnic populations. Cord blood has been successful in treating both of these disorders.

Beer points out that cord blood stem cell preservation is not just for families with identified medical needs or for those at high risk. Most families who choose to preserve their newborn's cord blood stem cells do so because they want to ensure that a "related source" of stem cells is preserved and readily available for their family, should a need arise for transplant therapy. Other parents choose to preserve their baby's cord blood stem cells because they are educated about stem cell research and the possibilities that stem cell science may provide in the future.

Can I donate to a public donor bank?

If you can't afford to bank your child's cord blood, or don't feel compelled to keep the blood for your family, you may choose to donate it to a public bank. It doesn't cost you anything to preserve the cord blood for someone else who needs it. Public banks include:

  • American Cord Blood Program: (508) 756-3076
  • Asian American Donor Program: (800) 59-DONOR
  • Carolinas Cord Blood Bank: (919) 668-1100
  • Cord Blood Donor Foundation: (650) 635-1452
  • National Marrow Donor Programs: (800) 627-7692
  • Canada: Alberta Cord Blood Bank: (780) 492-2673

    If I do want to save my baby's cord blood, when do I need to get going on this process?

    You'll need to apply far enough in advance of your due date to have the collection kit ready and your agreement confirmed with the registry. For more information visit Cord Blood Registry.

    Your family's medical history -- and whether or not an older sibling has a blood disease -- are probably some of the most important considerations at this time, but there are many factors you will want to think about when deciding what to do with your baby's cord blood. Both head and heart will need to weigh in on the debate, so you can make the choice that makes the most sense to your growing family.

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