A relatively new science that has been drawing the medical community's attention since its benefits were first discovered in the 1970s, cord blood is associated with the treatment of serious medical conditions.
Today, cord blood banks have sprung up in different parts of the world to offer individuals the opportunity to store their newborns' cord blood for future medical use. But what exactly is cord blood? How can it help improve your family’s chances at countering serious diseases? And is cord blood banking the right thing for you?
Until recently, the placenta and umbilical cord were discarded after birth without much thought, but after cord blood was discovered to be a rich source of blood stem cells, cord blood is now being used to help cure a wide variety of diseases.
Stem cells can develop into other types of cells as well as regenerate blood vessels, tissues and organs, and can thus be used to treat 70 different diseases, including some cancers, blood disorders and immunodeficiencies.
Recent research suggests that cord blood might eventually be used to cure chronic conditions such as diabetes, spinal-cord injuries, heart failure, stroke, and neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis.
By storing a newborn’s cord blood, not only can its stem cells be used to treat the child if it falls ill in the future, it can also be used to treat a sick sibling or relative.
Cord blood banking is a procedure whereby the blood found in the umbilical cord and placenta is collected after birth, frozen and stored for later use in the case of future medical necessity.
It is a painless and safe process and doesn’t interfere with the birth. Once your baby has been delivered, your doctor or nurse uses a needle to extract 88-147 milliliters of blood from the umbilical vein on the part of the cord that’s attached to the placenta.
The process itself takes less than 10 minutes. Once a sufficient amount of blood is extracted, it is taken to a cord blood bank where it will be processed, tested for viruses and genetic faults, and frozen for long-term storage.
Theoretically, stem cells can be stored indefinitely, however this has yet to be confirmed as the process of cord blood banking is still new, having started in the 1970s.
Taking cord blood is a simple and painless process when compared to bone marrow donation.
By banking your newborn's cord blood, your child or close relative can be treated with bone marrow transplants. Diseases that can be treated with bone marrow transplants include some types of leukemia, aplastic anemia, and severe combined immune deficiency.
Unless you have a family history of diseases, the odds that your baby will ever use its own banked cord blood is considered low.
Collecting and storing cord blood tends to be expensive.
There is a possibility that the stored stem cells could contain genetic defects, which could cause the receiver to fall ill. Such cases, which include an immunity deficiency or congenital dyserythropoietic anemia, might not surface for months or years, during which the cord blood could be used to treat others and possibly lead to their infection. Cord blood banks can avoid this problem by taking procedures such as storing the cord blood for 6-12 months before using it, and remaining in touch with the donor family to ensure that the donor is healthy.
Even though cord blood can be used to treat diseases in both adults and children, in most cases it is used for the treatment of children as umbilical cord blood stem cells aren’t usually available in a quantity that is sufficient for an adult’s transplant.
If you've decided that cord blood banking is right for you, speak with your obstetrician and discuss your options. Try to find a cord blood bank that is easily accessible in a nearby country if there aren’t any banks in your own country. Below are a few aspects you should consider before choosing your cord blood bank:
The financial stability of the cord blood bank. A financially stable bank reduces the risk of your needing to transfer your sample to another bank due to your current bank closing.
The number of samples processed in the facility. The larger the number of samples being processed, the more collection and handling procedures are in place.
Whether you can switch to another facility if you choose to at a later date.
What happens to your sample if the facility goes out of business.
The yearly fees and maintenance costs involved, and whether these fees are variable or fixed.