What is Cord Blood and How is it Beneficial?
The term, "cord blood," refers to the leftover blood in a newborn's umbilical cord after the child has been born. Cord blood contains important stem cells, like bone marrow, that can be very useful in various medical treatments. The process of saving cord blood after childbirth is known as cord blood banking, and has been increasing in popularity over the years. Since a baby's umbilical cord and placenta are no longer needed after childbirth, they are discarded unless the parents decide they want to save the cord blood for future use on their child, another family member, or to donate to another hospital patient.
Private Cord Blood Banks
Parents have the options of saving their baby's cord blood at a private bank for future use. This can be very beneficial if their child develops a life threatening disease that can be treated with the saved cord blood. A private cord blood bank is also beneficial for other family members in need of the precious stem cells. Parents who use this service must pay for storage, processing and various fees.
Public Cord Blood Banks
Parents can opt for donating their child's cord blood for patients who require a transplant. Donating cord blood is free, with no processing, storage or cord blood collection fee. While the cord blood may be available for their child at a later time, the purpose of donated cord blood is primarily for use on other patients. Parents who wish to save cord blood for their child or for another family member should use a private cord blood bank instead.
Related Donor Cord Blood Program
According to the National Marrow Donor Program, this program is available to eligible families in the United States, and storage and collection of cord blood is free of charge. Families must meet the following criteria to be eligible for this program:
- A cord blood donor's biological sibling must have a disease that can be treated by a cord blood transplant.
- The cord blood donor and the sibling requiring the transplant must have the same biological parents.
- The cord blood donor cannot have the same disease as the biological sibling who requires the transplant.
How Cord Blood Banking Works
Cord blood can be collected after vaginal or cesarean childbirth. Cord blood collection requires the physician to use a special kit that is either purchased from a private bank, or provided by a public bank. The collection process occurs immediately after childbirth, and the collected cord blood is taken directly to the cord blood bank where it is labeled and is stored cryogenically for later use. Parents must prepare in advance if they wish to save their baby's cord blood by either planning the collection process with a public or private cord blood bank. If parents do not opt for saving their baby's cord blood, it is disposed of.
Benefits of Saving Cord Blood
There are numerous benefits to saving cord blood, most of which have already been mentioned earlier. Saved or donated cord blood can potentially save the lives of those who require stem cells to treat life threatening diseases. The following is a list of some diseases where stem cells have a great potential for treatment:
This is a fairly short list when compared to other immune system or genetic metabolic disorders that cord blood can potentially help treat. Keep in mind, cord blood that isn't saved after a child's birth is disposed of.
The Downside of Saving Cord Blood
Private cord blood banks are becoming a very profitable industry, charging various fees for saving a child's cord blood. Parents who are only thinking of the potential benefits of cord blood might overlook the thousands of dollars they will be spending to save their child's cord blood at a private bank. Some of these charges include:
- Initial processing fees.
- Fee for the special kit required to collect the cord blood.
- Transportation fees when the cord blood is transferred from the hospital to the cord blood bank.
- Cord blood storage fees.
- Cord blood maintenance fees.
Another negative aspect surrounding cord blood is the fact that it can only be used for children and young adults. This is due to the fact that there aren't enough stem cells in cord blood to treat a regular adult or a person who is large in size.
While these factors may cause parents to feel less inclined to save their child's cord blood, it's important to discuss the option with the family's physician. According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, there is a growing need for more cord blood donations, especially in cases where suitable donors are needed for different racial and ethnic communities.