Cord blood is the blood from a baby that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. Cord blood banks store frozen cord blood until someone who is a genetic match requires a transplant.
Cord blood contains special cells called hematopoietic stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells are immature cells that can develop into all types of blood cells, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
Hematopoietic stem cells are the same type of blood-forming stem cells present in a bone marrow transplant. They may help treat over 70 types of disease.
During pregnancy, people can decide whether to have a cord blood collection after giving birth. Collecting cord blood is harmless to both the person giving birth and the newborn.
Cord blood banks freeze and store cord blood samples after collection, ready for future use. There are public and private banking options.
This article will look at the pros and cons of cord blood banking. It will also examine the differences between private and public cord blood banks, the costs, and the procedure.
Stem cells from cord blood and bone marrow both give rise to other blood cells. Sometimes, however, stem cells from cord blood can be more medically useful than those from bone marrow.
Some advantages of cord blood banking include the following:
- More people can receive stem cells from cord blood than from bone marrow. This is because the cord blood does not have to match that of the person receiving the transplant as closely as with a bone marrow transplant.
- There is less chance of a person’s body rejecting the stem cells from cord blood than from bone marrow.
- Cord blood stem cells may support the immune system during cancer treatments. People cannot use stem cells from bone marrow in this way.
- Collecting cord blood is less complicated, painful, and risky for the donor than collecting bone marrow.
- The collection of cord blood poses no risk to the newborn or the person giving birth.
- Cord blood banks can freeze and store cord blood, which means that it is ready for use when needed.
- Donation to a public cord blood bank is free.
- Donation to public cord blood banks may help save the lives of others.
Some disadvantages of cord blood banking include the following:
- Cord blood does not contain many stem cells, which means that adults needing a transplant will require cord blood stem cells from multiple donors.
- People have to pay a fee for storing cord blood in a private bank, which could prove costly.
- Some hospitals may charge a small fee for a public collection.
- People must decide and plan for cord blood donation upfront and provide their consent before labor starts.
- Privately banking cord blood may not be any more effective than undergoing a transplant of stem cells from a stranger.
- Not all hospitals will collect cord blood for public storage.
- Not everyone is eligible to donate cord blood.
Donating cord blood to a public bank is free. However, some hospitals may charge a small fee for collection.
Storing cord blood in a private blood bank can be expensive and cost around $1,500–$2,500. There are also annual storage fees, which can cost about $125 each year.
People may need to pay for the initial collection kit, processing, and courier service to deliver the cord blood to the bank. This may cost several hundred dollars.
People can store cord blood in a private cord blood bank or donate to a public cord blood bank.
Private cord blood banks store cord blood for use by the child or their family. The parents own the cord blood.
Private banks can offer directed donations or autologous transplants.
Directed donations are stem cells that a cord blood bank stores for a donor’s relative to use if they have a condition that stem cells may help treat. In these cases, a private bank will sometimes store cord blood for free.
An autologous transplant procedure uses the person’s own cord blood stem cells for their transplant.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, autologous transplants are rare for several reasons. One of these is that people cannot use their own stem cells during treatment for a genetic disease because the stem cells have the same genes that cause the disease.
Also, people cannot use their own stem cells for a blood disease, such as leukemia. Their cord blood stem cells cannot treat their leukemia.
Public cord blood banks collect donated cord blood for use by anyone who needs it. They may use the cord blood for research purposes or discard the donation. Public banks may also offer directed donations.
Public banks own cord blood donations.
The type of transplant from a public bank is an allogeneic transplant. Allogeneic transplants use cord blood stem cells to treat a condition in someone other than the donor. Allogeneic transplants are more common than autologous transplants.
Allogeneic transplants require a good match between the donor and the person receiving the transplant. A good match means that there are certain similarities between both people’s cells.
If there is not a strong enough match, the immune system of the person receiving the transplant may reject the cells, meaning that the transplant will not work.
A paper in the journal Pediatrics lists multiple organizations that state that public donation is preferable to private storage. This is because of the rare cases in which people can use the stem cells they store at a private bank. The exception is if a family member has a condition that a stem cell transplant could treat.
Stem cells from cord blood may be able to treat several types of condition, such as:
- immune system disorders
- genetic disorders
- neurologic disorders
- some types of cancer, such as leukemia and lymphoma
If someone decides to donate cord blood, they can talk to their healthcare provider after 28 weeks of pregnancy.
The person will need to:
- meet set guidelines
- check which hospitals collect public donations or look into private banks
- provide their consent
Before donating to a public bank, donors must undergo a screening process to check for any infections or genetic, blood, or immune system disorders.
During pregnancy, the person will have blood tests, and the cord blood will go through testing after collection.
The collection of cord blood takes place after delivery. A healthcare professional will clamp and cut the umbilical cord. They will then use a needle to draw blood from the umbilical cord and placenta to store in a sterile, sealed bag.
The procedure is painless and straightforward, and it may take around 10 minutes. In some cases, however, the healthcare professional may not be able to collect enough cord blood for a donation.
Also, if there is an emergency during childbirth, healthcare professionals will prioritize the pregnant person’s and newborn’s safety over collecting the cord blood.
When cord blood arrives at the bank, somebody will give it an identifying number and “type” it, which means that a computer can easily track it to find a match.
Banks freeze the cord blood in a liquid nitrogen freezer and store it until someone needs a transplant.
Cord blood banking can provide stem cells that may treat several conditions, particularly in children and young adults.
People need to decide during pregnancy if they want to donate or store cord blood from their child, and they will need to meet certain criteria.
People can discuss the pros and cons of public or private banking with their doctor, especially if they have an existing family member with a condition who could benefit from stem cell treatment.