Cord Blood Banking - What it is and how it works
An introduction to cord blood
Cord blood banking is a relatively recent medical procedure that involves drawing blood from an infant's umbilical cord and storing it for possible future use, either for your own child or for the benefit of others. Medical science is still discovering uses for cord blood, although it has already been used to successfully treat many diseases including:
- Genetic blood diseases
In this article, we’ll explore the basic principles of cord blood banking and its benefits including:
What cord blood is - What's in cord blood?
Uses of cord blood - What can it be used to treat?
Cord blood banks - What do cord blood banks do?
Public cord blood banking - Donating for other people
Private cord blood banking - Keeping the blood for possible future use
Your decision - What decision is right for you?
By the end of the article you should have a good understanding of the process, background and benefits of cord blood banking, and whether it could be right for your child.
What is cord blood?
When a baby is born, blood remains in the umbilical cord and placenta that is no longer needed by the infant. This blood is known as ‘umbilical cord’ or ‘placental’ blood - The general term for this is ‘cord blood’.
Cord blood is important and valuable because it is made of several different substances and types of cells; these include:
Red blood cells - Used to carry oxygen around the body
White blood cells - Fight infections; a vital part of our immune system
Plasma - The basis of blood
Platelets - Responsible for clotting blood if we are injured
Stem cells (hematopoietic cells) - Able to produce new blood cells
It is these stem cells that are most important as they can be used to create new blood cells, which can be essential if the child later develops a blood disease. The stem cells in cord blood are similar to those found in bone marrow and cord blood is an exceptionally rich source of these types of cells.
Cord blood banks and what they do
Specialized facilities exist across the US and around the world that can extract the cord blood and store it safely over the long-term. Because cord blood may need to be successfully stored for many years, the process of extracting, testing, processing and then keeping the cord blood can be expensive.
Cord blood is frozen and stored in specialized cord blood banks. A parent can choose whether they want the cord blood to be used for other people’s benefit (public cord blood banking) or stored for the possible future benefit of their own child (private cord blood banking.)
Public cord blood banking
Public cord blood banking is an altruistic service that the parents of a newborn infant can choose to take part in. The expectant parents give permission for blood to be drawn from their child’s umbilical cord for the benefit of others.
This blood is then donated to a public cord blood bank where it may be used for scientific research or to provide a vital cord blood transfusion to other children that need it. This functions in a similar way to how adults donate blood during blood drives on the understanding that it will be used to help other people that need it.
If cord blood is donated in this way, it cannot later be reclaimed by the parent as all of the identifying information from the blood is removed after it is tested.
Private cord blood banking
Private cord blood banking takes place if a parent wants to store the cord blood of their infant for that individual’s benefit later in life. That way, if the blood is ever needed by the child for any reason in future, it can be made available to them.
The blood is set aside and is only allowed to be used if the parents provide authorization. Blood stored in this way is typically used to treat possible illnesses that could develop in the child as it matures. The actual likelihood of ever having to use these blood cells for a specific child are very low, as blood illnesses are not common.
Collecting cord blood
The blood is drawn from the umbilical cord within ten minutes of birth. Collecting cord blood is a completely painless and quick process that involves extracting blood from the umbilical vein, near the placenta. The blood is drained into a collection device; the blood does not come from the baby but from the placenta, after the umbilical cord is cut.
Depending on what is going to happen with the blood (whether it is going to be held in a private blood bank or donated to a public one), it goes through various tests prior to being stored. It is then taken to a specialized storage facility where it can be prepared and stored for many years.
Cord blood is stored via a specialized freezing process, known as ‘cryofreezing’ that ensures the blood is preserved in the best possible way.
The various uses of cord blood
Cord blood is especially useful and important in treating diseases of the blood and the immune system, particularly genetic diseases and cancers like leukemia. Because cord blood contains stem cells, it is very effective at producing healthy blood, including platelets, white blood cells and red blood cells.
Because these stem cells are young and can adapt and become specialized, cord blood can be used to treat around 80 different diseases. In addition to blood diseases, scientists are also investigating if cord blood could be used to treat diabetes, stroke and brain injuries. Research is also being carried out to see if cord blood could aid in cardiovascular repair. Among the diseases that cord blood can treat are:
Other blood disorders
There are a number of studies taking place looking at future uses of cord blood; these include:
Hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain)
Ultimately, there are two important decisions that you will need to make if you are considering cord blood banking.
Do you want to store the blood for your child’s possible future use or donate it to a public bank?
If you do want to store the blood for your own child’s use, do you think that the associated costs are worth it, bearing in mind that the blood will likely never be needed by your child?
You should speak with a medical professional to understand your options and make a decisions when you have all of the facts.
Is cord blood banking right for you?
What do you think?
What do you think about cord blood banking?
Although cord blood banking is a recent medical procedure, research suggests that cord blood can be used to successfully treat a number of illnesses. Expectant parents should consider the potential cost and possible future benefit of cord blood banking and decide if it would be right for them and their child. They should understand that the odds of their child needing a transfusion of their own cord blood are very low, but not impossible.