Umbilical Cord Blood
Some call it “insurance.” Others call it “the chance of a lifetime.” At one time it was discarded as “medical waste.” The substance at issue is cord blood, or blood taken from the placenta and umbilical cord at the time of birth. Why is cord blood, once discarded as part of the afterbirth, such an item of discussion in medicine nowadays?
The answer is simple: Stem Cells. A baby's cord blood is an abundant source of stem cells. And stem cells are the building blocks of bodies. Stem cells are important because they have the potential of becoming any sort of cell the body may require – skin, brain, blood, etc. They are important in research, especially in the science of regeneration, a new field of medicine that's attempting to understand how damaged tissue can replace itself. They are also becoming more and more useful in the treatment of genetic diseases including leukemia and sickle cell disease.
How It's Collected
Collecting cord blood is a very simple and safe procedure. Cord blood can be collected no matter how the delivery takes place – vaginally or by cesarean. The collection process takes five minutes, more or less, and is done within the first quarter-hour of birth. The retrieval of the cord blood is done after the umbilical has been cut, further lessening any chance of discomfort or harm. The only caveat given to medical professionals presiding at the birth is to not clamp the cord too soon after delivery, but that precaution is usually taken with all births.
Cord blood is harvested in two ways – bag and syringe. Bag: The placenta and umbilical cord are held aloft and the cord blood is allowed to drain into a sterile bag. Syringe: A syringe is used to pull blood from the umbilical cord in an action not much different than drawing a specimen for a blood test. The cord blood is then sent to a laboratory for processing and cryogenically frozen within 48 hours of the birth.
Cord Blood as Insurance
Some families are genetically prone to certain diseases. So, banking an infant's cord blood could provide a family with a sort of insurance. The cord blood is a source of stem cells that are genetically distinctive to the infant and the family. The stem cells would be useful should the infant him or herself develop certain diseases as he or she matures. The distinctive stem cells could also be used for parents or siblings should a disease rise. Families in this situation should give serious thought to employing a cord-blood banking facility.
Cord Blood as the Chance of a Lifetime
Both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends public banking of cord blood. They state that no reason exists why families could not or should not donate cord blood. They see it as “the chance of a lifetime” to make a difference in someone else's life. They have the statistics to prove that the likelihood of matching cord blood for most children in a public bank is greater than 90 percent.
Doctors in general encourage families to donate to a public bank as that will offer a greater chance of stem cells being made available to many populations. Many foundations, not-for-profit blood banks, and medical institutions will collect and process donated cord blood. The only other sources for stem cells comes from bone marrow donors or laboratory embryos. Bone marrow recipients are more likely to reject donated marrow. The use of embryos in laboratories presents ethical issues to medical communities and society at large.
Storage of a newborn's umbilical cord blood with a private bank can range from $1,000 to $3,000 up front to cover the cost of a cord-blood collection kit, courier service to the cord-blood bank, and initial processing. Yearly storage fees can range from $85 to $125. Obstetricians or other health care professionals may charge for their collection services.
Public cord-blood banking is free and the donation is entered into a public system where it becomes available to anyone who needs it. ObGyns or similar healthcare personnel usually donate their time and the public cord-blood banks provide free cord-blood kits.
Learn More About Cord-blood Banking
Storing a baby's cord blood should be done with a cord-blood bank accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB). There are a number of cord blood banks that are accredited by the AABB. Most offer information on cord blood banking as well as provide private cord blood banking services. You should be able to locate a reputable cord-blood bank online. Consult your ObGyn or other health care professionals for advice on making a public donation. Or, again, check the Web by punching “Cord Blood” into your search engine.