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How Cord Blood Banking Works

Katlyn Joy | 9, March 2012


Until the 1970's, no one realized the rich potential of blood contained in the umbilical cord and the valuable cord blood was discarded soon after a baby's birth. Now medical professionals and parents alike recognize the importance of cord blood and its role in fighting certain illnesses and diseases.

Why Cord Blood is Important

Blood within the umbilical cord and placenta contains stem cells. Stem cells are generally found in bone marrow and are capable of producing red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Stem cells may also be used to develop other types of cells as well.

Stem cells can be used to treat leukemia, certain cancers, diseases of the blood and ailments involving the immune system. It's possible that stem cells may be used in the future to treat other diseases and disorders as well.
At this point, approximately 70 disorders have been successfully treated with cord blood stem cells.

How cord blood is Collected

To collect the rich cord blood at a vaginal birth, the cord is clamped and then cut. After preparing the specific kit for the collection, one end is unclamped and emptied into a small tube which has been attached to a vein within the umbilical cord. Needles are also placed within the placenta to collect more stem cells. It typically takes ten minutes or so to collect the cord blood. However, with cesarean births the collection process usually yields less cord blood and is more complicated. Once the birth takes place and after the uterus has been safely sutured, the cord blood can be gathered. Once collected the cord blood is stored in syringes or blood bags and shipped to the cord blood bank. The stem cells are then taken from the cord blood and cryogenically preserved, or frozen. The blood has been identified and labeled.

Pros of cord blood Banking

While it is unlikely your child will ever need his own cord blood, sometimes cord blood of family members can be used for transplant. It's estimated that only 1 in 2700 children will need her own stem cells for a transplant from her cord blood.
cord blood isn't a risky or painful procedure as bone marrow donation can be. It often is more successful in grafting or implants than more matched bone marrow stem cells.

- If cord blood is used, no valuable time is lost searching for a potential bone marrow match. This is especially true for racial minorities who may have fewer matches on a bone marrow list.

- cord blood also is less likely to contain viruses which can be dangerous to transplant recipients.

Potential Problems with cord blood Banking

- More stem cells may be needed than is available from cord blood. For a full adult transplant, cord blood may not contain an adequate number of stem cells.

- Recipients cannot receive subsequent donations of stem cells from a cord blood source.

- There is some concern that an ill child who gets his own stem cells may risk becoming sick again with the same illness after getting an autologous transplant.

- There are no standard guidelines for the collection and storage of cord blood stem cells and so most institutions are essentially unregulated.

- It can be costly to bank cord blood. It may cost a thousand or two dollars to collect cord blood and then over a hundred to store the blood yearly.

- Clamping too soon following birth can have an adverse effect on baby's blood pressure and perhaps cause anemia.

Who Are the Best Candidates for cord blood Banking

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends cord blood banking only for families with histories of blood disorders, such as leukemia or sickle cell anemia or childhood cancers. Parents of children who are a racial or ethnic minority or are adopted may also want to consider cord blood banking. For those who opt not to bank their baby's cord blood, donation is a valuable choice. These donated stem cells may be used by anyone who is a good match and in need of sufficient stem cells for transplant.

Related Articles

Public & Private Cord Blood Banking

Why Cord Blood Is So Precious

Choosing a Cord Blood Bank

Saving Cord Blood Stem Cells


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