Should You Bank Your Baby’s Cord Blood?

As you prepare to welcome your newborn into the world, it’s a good time to think about cord blood banking and saving the potentially life-saving stem cells in their umbilical cord blood. The cord tissue and the blood inside it contain a rich source of stem cells that can help repair and heal the body.

What is Cord Blood?

Found in the blood vessels of the placenta and the umbilical cord, cord blood is loaded with stem cells which can be used to treat cancer, blood diseases like anemia and some immune system disorders. The cord blood is easy to collect and contains more than 10 times the stem cells collected from bone marrow. Stems cells from cord blood are half as likely to be rejected as adult stem cells.

How is Cord Blood Collected?

Cord blood is collected after the baby is born.  The doctor clamps the umbilical cord in two places, about 10 inches apart, and cuts the cord, separating mother from baby. Then they insert a needle and collect at least 40 milliliters of blood from the cord. The blood is sealed in a bag and sent to a lab or cord blood bank for testing and storage. The process only takes a few minutes and is painless for mother and baby.  Cord blood is a biological product regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Approved Uses for Cord Blood

Cord blood is approved only for use in “hematopoietic stem cell transplantation” procedures, which are done in patients with disorders affecting the hematopoietic (blood forming) system. Currently, there are over 80 FDA-approved treatments using the umbilical cord blood, including childhood leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and other blood cancers and immune disorders. The stem cells in umbilical cord blood are used to rebuild the body following chemotherapy and other aggressive treatments for these diseases.

In addition to the current FDA approved uses for cord blood stem cells, medical research is exploring its the potential for treating Cerebral Palsy, hypoxic brain injury at birth, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Umbilical cord blood stem cells can be collected immediately after childbirth and processed to isolate and cryogenically preserve the HSCs for potential future medical use.  If needed, stored stem cells from umbilical cord blood can be thawed and transfused into the bloodstream to regenerate the immune system. For instance, in many cancer patients, the disease is found in the blood cells. Chemotherapy treatment of these patients kills both cancer cells and the healthy blood-forming stem cells. Transplanted stem cells from cord blood can help regrow the healthy blood cells after the chemotherapy.

However, cord blood is not a cure-all

The FDA urges caution. “Because cord blood contains stem cells, there have been stem cell fraud cases related to cord blood,” says Keith Wonnacott, Ph.D., Chief of the Cellular Therapies Branch in FDA’s Office of Cellular, Tissue, and Gene Therapies. “Consumers may think that stem cells can cure any disease, but science doesn’t show this to be the case. Patients should be skeptical if cord blood is being promoted for uses other than blood stem cell regeneration.”

About Cord Blood Banking

After cord blood is collected, it is frozen via  cryopreservation and can be safely stored for many years. It’s important to store the blood with a reputable and certified banking organization. The American Pregnancy Association recommends ViaCord. They are a private bank which means the blood will be available when needed by your child or first- or second-degree relatives. Private cord banks charge fees for blood collection and storage.

Or you may donate the cord blood to a public bank so that doctors can use for a patient who needs a hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

FDA Regulations

FDA regulates cord blood in different ways, depending on the source, level of processing and intended use.

Cord blood stored for personal use, for use in first- or second-degree relatives, and that also meets other criteria in FDA’s regulations, does not require the agency’s approval before use. Private cord banks must still comply with other FDA requirements, including establishment registration and listing, current good tissue practice regulations, and donor screening and testing for infectious diseases (except when cord blood is used for the original donor). These FDA requirements ensure safety of these products by minimizing the risk of contamination and transmission of infectious diseases.

Cord blood stored for use by a patient unrelated to the donor meets the legal definitions of both a “drug” and a “biological product.” Cord blood in this category must meet additional requirements and be licensed under a biologics license application, or be the subject of an investigational new drug application before use. The FDA requirements help to ensure that these products are safe and effective for their intended use.

Cord Blood Donation Tips for Consumers

By donating your newborn’s umbilical cord blood, you are joining a nationwide effort to create a genetically diverse inventory of stem cells for a child or adult in need of a potentially life-saving transplant.  Public banks collect qualifying cord blood donations from healthy pregnancies and save them in case one will be the match to save the life of a patient in need of a stem cell transplant.

It’s free to donate your child’s cord blood and makes it possible for someone to find a match outside of their family.  Public cord blood banking is highly recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Medical Association (AMA).

If you’re considering donating to a cord blood bank, you should look into your options during your pregnancy to have enough time to decide before your baby is born. For public banking, ask whether your delivery hospital participates in a cord blood banking program.

If you have questions about collection procedures and risks, or about the donation process, ask your health care provider.

FDA also offers a searchable database that maintains information on registered cord blood banks.

Parents from minority ethnic groups may especially want to consider donation to a public bank, because more donations from these populations will help more minority patients who need a stem cell transplant. (The recipients must be “matched” to donors, so doctors are more likely to find a good match among donors from the recipient’s ethnic group.)

When it comes to public banking, there’s a proven need for cord blood. And there’s a need especially among minorities to have stem cell transplants available. Cord blood is an excellent source for stem cell transplants.

And these transplants can be life-changing for patients.

Compiled from the following sources: