We were recently asked by a couple if they should bank their baby’s cord bloodor not? They had heard about it, but really did not know much about it. They had done some research on-line and their delivering doctor didn’t really tell them much that they hadn’t already read about. They wanted to know what is it, why should they do it, and if they decide to do it, how should they do it?
In order to answer their questions about cord blood, we need to start from the beginning.
When a baby is developing in it’s mother’s womb, the umbilical cord connects from an opening in the baby’s stomach to the placenta. During pregnancy, the placenta which is an oxygen and nutrient rich organ, is attached to the lining of the womb. This organ sends all the oxygen and essential nutrients that your baby needs to develop via the umbilical cord. Basically, the umbilical cord is your baby’s life line.
When your baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut (no it does not hurt as the cord is similar to your nails or hair, so neither you nor your baby will feel anything) and some of that blood from the placenta remains in the umbilical cord. This extra blood is what is known as cord blood.
What is so special about this extra blood?
This cord blood is full of stem cells and stem cells can save lives. Stem cells are the building blocks of blood and are also the foundation of our immune system. Not only that, these particular stems cells have the unique ability to divide and form into other types of cells such as more blood cells, muscles or bones. By having this unique ability, they can help repair tissues, organs and treat diseases. According to the Mayo Clinic, “cord blood stem cells have been used successfully to treat more than 70 different diseases, including some cancers, blood disorders, and immune deficiencies. Among these are leukemia, aplastic anemia, thalassemia, Hodgkin’s disease, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
The umbilical cord isn’t the only place where we can harvest stem cells. We can find stem cells from other sources as well such as bone marrow and circulating blood. Bone marrow and circulating blood are found in all healthy adults. However, unlike these two sources, cord blood can only be harvested and stored at birth.
So why bother with cord blood when we can still collect it from bone marrow and regular blood?
Well, one of the main reasons is because unlike cord blood cells which have the unique ability to form into other types of cells, adult stem cells do not and this limits how adult stem cells can be used to treat diseases.
Also, it is much easier to match transplant patients with cord blood than with adult donors. For example, according to research only 30% of people who are in need of a stem cell transplant have someone in their family who is a match. In other words, 70% do NOT have a match..within their own family. So finding a match outside of their family, is pretty near impossible. But when using cord blood stem cells, if a first degree relative (parent, sibling or child) needs a stem cell transplant and you have cord blood banked, it is pretty much a guarantee that those stem cells will be a match. Further, people who receive transplants from stem cells that come from someone they are related too versus someone they are unrelated too, have a better chance of recovering and recovering faster from the procedure. Also, because of scientific research, new therapies now exist whereby children can use their own cord blood stem cells to help their body repair itself. Amazing.
We think it is pretty obvious that there is tremendous value in harvesting and collecting cord blood. Regardless of the value, there are still people who are not interested in doing so, in fact, more than 95% of all newborn cord blood is discarded. But if you are not interested in discarding or banking, you can also have the ability to donate the cells and potentially help save someone else life. With all the wonderful research being conducted, who knows what other life saving treatments science will discover.
Now if you decide to save your cord blood, make sure to do your research. Finding a bank that is reliable and credible is essential. If the cord blood is not handled and / or stored correctly, you may never be able to even use it. So talk to your delivering doctor or hospital and ask for a recommendation. Seek out friends or family who have done this. Who have they worked with before? Research the different companies on-line and speak to a live person and ask questions.
Although cost maybe a factor in your decision regarding which bank you chose, don’t let that be your only deciding factor. After looking through the various banking websites, I found that on average, banking for 20 years is approximately $4,000 or $200 a year. That’s it. Considering all that can be done using the stem cells, $200 a year does not seem like much of a cost.
There is a great site we found, a non-profit called Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation that tells you everything you need to know about cord blood. It is a great place to start your own research .
So to answer the questions for the couple who asked us if they should bank their child’s cord blood:
1. What is it: Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta after the birth of a baby. It contains stem cells that may be cryopreserved for later use in medical therapies, such as stem cell transplants or clinical trials of new stem cell therapies.
2. Why should you do it: it can save lives.
3. How should you do it? Do your research, ask questions BEFORE your baby is born.