What Every Parent Needs to Know About Cord Blood

Cord blood banking gives you the ability to collect and preserve potentially life-saving stems cells. Want to know about cord blood banking, but don’t have time to sort through all the information you see online? Here’s a quick guide with answers to your questions about the basics of cord blood and cord blood banking.

What is Cord Blood?
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the attached portion of umbilical cord after a baby is born. [1] Cord blood contains all the normal components of blood, but it is also rich in stem cells. Stem cells are considered the “master cells” of the body because they have the ability to develop into many different types of cells that make up our blood, tissue, organs and immune system. [2] These stem cells are similar to those found in bone marrow. This is why cord blood can be used as an alternative to bone marrow for transplantation.

How is Cord Blood Used Today?
Nearly 80 different diseases have been treated with cord blood transplants. [1] Cord blood stem cells are most commonly used to treat leukemia and inherited diseases of red blood cells, the immune system and certain metabolic abnormalities. To date, stem cells collected at LifebankUSA have been used to treat the most common childhood leukemias, sickle cell anemia, inherited immune deficiencies and more.

Stem cells work by replacing other cells in the body that are abnormal or have been destroyed by disease. [2] Today, about one-third of all unrelated stem cell transplants are done with cord blood. [3] As researchers continued to learn more about the potential of stem cells, the uses of cord blood are expected to increase.

Why Are Cord Blood Stem Cells Different?

Cord blood stem cells are more adaptable
Two of the most frequent complications of stem cell transplantation are transplant rejection and another condition called graft versus host disease or GvHD. [3] [4] GvHD develops when blood cells arising from the donor’s stem cells recognize the recipient’s cells and tissue as foreign and attack them. Cord blood stem cells adapt more easily to a patient’s body following transplant, making rejection and GvHD far less likely. [3] As a result, cord blood transplants can be performed in cases where the donor and the recipient are only partially matched. In contrast, bone marrow grafts require perfect matching in most cases. The ability to use partially matched cord blood for transplants increases a patient’s chances of being matched with a suitable donor.

What are the Reasons for Banking Cord Blood?
Here are just a few of the many reasons families choose to bank cord blood:

  • Cord blood stem cells can already be used to treat a variety of diseases, including cancers, blood disorders and genetic diseases. And, as researchers explore new uses for cord blood, the number of diseases that may be treated with cord blood in the future will likely increase. [1]
  • When there is a family history of certain cancers or other diseases that can be treated with stem cell transplantation, banking cord blood is like buying an insurance policy.
  • Banking cord blood can give families peace of mind that they have immediate access to a related source of stem cells. Research shows that transplant outcomes are better when using related cord blood donor cells, as compared with unrelated cord blood or bone marrow donor cells. [5] [6] And, when a stem cell match is needed to treat a non-genetic disease, a family member is always the first option doctors will look to for a match.

How is Cord Blood Collected?
After the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut, the remaining blood in the umbilical cord is drawn into a collection bag. This procedure is quick, easy and painless for both the mother and the baby. Cord blood collection will not harm the mother or the baby, and it doesn’t affect your birth plan. If you choose, many cord blood companies offer tissue banking along with cord blood banking.

When Does the Decision to Bank Cord Blood Need to Be Made?
The only chance to collect and store a baby’s cord blood stem cells is immediately after birth. So, it’s important to talk with your family and your obstetrician about the decision to save or donate cord blood well before your baby’s due date. Otherwise, the cord blood and cord tissue will be discarded.