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Consider the Life-Saving Elements to Umbilical Cord Blood

By Kim Wilschek, RN

Consider the Life-Saving Elements to Umbilical Cord Blood

Your baby’s cord blood contains stem cells that have the potential to treat or cure life-threatening illnesses. So far, more than 8,000 patients in the US have been treated with umbilical cord blood.

These stem cells are currently being used to treat more than 70 diseases, including genetic disorders, immune deficiencies, and blood and immune system cancers. Research is also promising in using cord blood stem cells to treat type 1 diabetes and cerebral palsy.

Use in treatment

Your baby’s cord blood stem cells are genetically unique to your family. They have a 75 percent chance of being an exact match to a sibling and are a 100 percent exact match for your baby. There are both private and public cord blood banks (to which you can donate your baby’s cord blood cells), yet experts estimate that the chance of finding a match within the public system is only about 33 percent.

Cord blood stem cells don’t need to match the recipient as perfectly as other stem cells, like bone marrow. This increases the odds that a family member can receive a stem cell transplant from a relative. And unlike embryonic stem cells, using these stem cells is non-controversial because they’re otherwise discarded with the cord.

Cord blood options

As a parent, you have three options for your baby’s cord blood at her birth: discard it, donate it to a public bank, or privately bank it. Your facility will typically discard the cord with the blood unless you state your wishes. If you want the cord blood saved, the collection procedure is the same, there’s no risk to you or your baby, and it’s painless.

During the past 12-18 months, there has been a dramatic shift in the use of privately banked cord blood, typically for regenerative therapies to treat damaged tissues within neurological or endocrine systems. Other potential uses under research include heart disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, autism, and gene therapy.

The costs of private banking, which can cost around $2,000 for the initial collection and $100 or more for annual storage, is a deterrent for some families. Yet, this is a rapidly changing science. Talk to your healthcare provider to get your family’s total risk picture to help answer whether you should consider banking or donating your baby’s cord blood.

Cord blood banking options


Donation to a public bankPrivate banking for your family
There is no cost, but you lose ownership of the cord blood as well as access to use itYou retain ownership and control, but there are costs, for which companies offer various payment plans
You must meet the donation criteria, which excludes moms having multiples, who are hepatitis B or HIV-positive, younger than 18, or who have had piercings or tattoos in the last 12 months; other exclusions may applyThere are no donation criteria; you may be advised to skip banking, however, if you’re HIV-positive
You must register for donation at least 6 weeks in advance of your baby’s birthYou can wait until shortly before delivery to decide and have a banking kit sent overnight
You will help fill a public need: 7 out of 10 patients receiving stem cell therapies right now depend on donated cord blood stem cells for a matchYou may be able to help your immediate and extended family should the need arise



Choosing a private cord blood bank

Not all private banking companies are the same. Ask the following when comparing companies:

    • Are you AA BB certified?
    • Do you use an FDA-approved collection system?
    • Are you financially stable and likely to be around in the future?
    • How long have you been in business and how many samples do you have stored?
    • How frequently are your samples released and used? What percentage of the stored samples were usable? (This speaks to the quality of their storage methods).
    • Have you published data about your processing methods and units released for transplants?
    • Do you engage in or support stem cell research?


Get the facts about cord blood banking


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