What is Cord Blood?

Cord blood is the blood which left in the umbilical cord, and the placenta after the birth of a baby. Cord blood is taken at the time of childbirth. It is a very rich source of stem cells, which can be used for the treatment of dozens of hematopoietic and genetic disorders diseases and disorders, including leukemia, lymphoma, and anemia.

Beyond the current uses as a means of treatment, cord blood researchers are continually working to find new therapeutic and medical uses for the stem cells derived from cord blood.

Cord blood is highly desirable because it has all the elements of whole blood (white blood cells, red blood cells, plasma, platelets), as well as hematopoietic stem cells.

Harvested cord blood is stored both by public and private cord blood banks. Public cord blood banks, which make it available to those unrelated to the donors, usually coordinate the distribution of the bank's supply through the National Marrow Donor Program. Private cord blood banks are generally for-profit corporations and store the cord blood for the private use of the donor or the donor's relatives.

In recent years, it has also become possible for parents to harvest and preserve stem cells from the umbilical cord tissue (not just the blood). The medical term for the tissue is Wharton's jelly. In contrast with cord blood stem cells, cord tissue is rich in Mesenchymal stem cells.

Cord Blood Banking

Cord blood banking is the process of harvesting and subsequent storage of umbilical cord blood at childbirth. Once a baby is born, the placenta and the attached umbilical cord contain blood which is rich in stem cells. This blood can be extracted and cryopreserved for future use by the donor, the donor's relatives, or in case of public banks by anyone who is in need.

In addition to cord blood harvesting and banking, it is currently possible to also extract stem cells from the umbilical cord tissue. This process is are more recent development, and as such has some technological barriers to overcome. Most cord tissue banks store an entire section of the umbilical cord, which can theoretically be used in the future to harvest stem cells once the technology has matured enough to extract sufficient viable stem cells.

Public vs Private Cord Blood Banking

Cord blood (and tissue) can be either donated to a public bank for use by the public as needed, or it can be stored with a commercial bank for exclusive use by the donor or those to whom the donor provides access. Private cord blood banking is a controversial practice, because most physicians are of the mind that corporations are making claims on which their services may not be able to deliver. The American Academy of Pediatrics has gone as far as making a policy statement saying that private cord blood banks are making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits which their services can provide in case of an illness.

Cord blood banking can be a costly undertaking as it requires a substantial payment at the time of harvest (right after delivery), and a yearly fee which is paid to preserve the harvested cord blood in a cold storage facility.

Note: In the United States the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of regulating private cord blood banks. Additionally, cord blood banks can be accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks or the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy.

Cord Blood Banking Benefits

Cord blood stem cells offer distinct benefits compared to adult or embryonic stem cells. It is up to you to decide if these benefits are reason enough to commit to banking the cord blood of your newborn.

Cord blood stem cells are different from other stem cells in that they are not as mature and thus offer flexibility in the ways they can be used to treat diseases. Here are a list of benefits which cord blood stem cells offer.

FAQ About Cord Blood Banking

The below table will provide quick answers to frequently asked questions about cord blood, and cord blood banking.

Does cord blood collection impact the health of either mother or baby?

No. The cord blood collection is done after the birth of the baby, and after the umbilical cord has been cut. The procedure also does not in any way impact the health of the mother.

Will cord blood stem cells stay viable after long cold-storage?

According to cold blood storage banks, the long term cold-storage of cord blood does not affect the viability of the stem cells which can be harvested in the future.

How is cord blood used in treatment of diseases?

Cord blood has been used for more than 20 years for the harvesting of stem cells and the treatment of such diseases as leukemia, blood disorders, and other genetic diseases.

Can someone other than my baby use the stem cells?

Anyone who is a match can use the stem cells; however, depending on what type of bank the donation is made, the donor may have say over who has access to the stem cells.

Is Cord Blood Banking Right for You?

In order to make a decision on whether or not to bank cord blood from your newborn, it is important to answer some questions. This is a personal decision; however, it is important to educate yourself about the process, costs, advantages, and disadvantages of cord blood banking.

Does your family have a history of diseases that can potentially be treated with stem cells from cord blood?

If your family has a history of diseases such as leukemia, blood disorders, heart disease and other conditions that can be potentially treated with stem cells, then it may be a good idea to invest the money for harvesting and storage of the cord blood from your newborn?s umbilical cord as an insurance policy in case she needs it in the future.

Can you afford the upfront harvesting and yearly storage cost?

Banking cord blood is a costly undertaking, so make sure that you can afford the initial cost, as well as the yearly storage fees that you will have to pay indefinitely to the company doing the storage.

Is cord blood banking a guaranteed source for successful treatment of diseases?

It is important to know that all cord blood banking will do is provide the opportunity for you, your child or relative (or anyone you chose to allow access to the stem cells) to attempt to use the cells as a treatment; however, there is no guarantee that the treatment will be successful.

These are some of the basic questions you should ask yourself before making a decision. You can also speak to your doctor; however, usually she will not recommend cord blood banking unequivocally--it is likely that she will simply provide some information about what the process is, it?s possible uses, and then leave the decision up to you.

Cost of Cord Blood Banking

As with any service offering, costs of cord blood banking will vary. There are, however, to basic parts to the cost.

Collection & Processing

The initial collection and processing of cord blood ranges from anywhere between $1,000 to $3,000+ depending on the type of collection and processing services for which you sign up. Of course, the price is also impacted by the add-on services which cost extra. Most storage banks will also offer a payment plan to ease the burden of the initial cost.

Storage Fee

After the collection and processing of the cord blood, the cryopreserved harvest will have to be stored in a cold-storage facility under very specific conditions. The cost of keeping your samples in such a facility is a relatively small yearly fee which generally starts from around $200. Do keep in mind that this is not an optional service (i.e., you cannot store the harvested cold blood in your freezer).

If you use a cord blood bank for multiple children, there are also discounts that are applied either to each subsequent deposit or the entire account overall.

To get specific information about the cost of cord blood banking, it is best to contact each company directly; usually, they have pricing information published on their website.