Cord Blood Banking

Stem cells are cells that are immature and thus can divide and give rise to mature cells of many different types. For example, the bone marrow contains blood stem cells, which are the building blocks for all the cells of the blood system. They continuously replicate and develop into red and white blood cells and platelets. Stem cell transplants are useful in replacing diseased bone marrow when a person has certain types of cancer. Stem cell transplants can also help to repair bone marrow after chemotherapy or radiation treatment has ended.

In order for an adult to donate blood stem cells, she has to go through the uncomfortable procedure of harvesting cells from her bone marrow. It can also be difficult to find a suitable bone marrow donor when one is needed, especially if the person who needs the transplant is of ethnic or mixed origin.

In comparison, the collection of stem cells from umbilical cord blood at birth is a safe, easy, quick, and pain-free procedure. Fetuses have many stem cells in their blood; the blood in the umbilical cord, which would otherwise be discarded, can be collected. The stem cells can be isolated and preserved.

Cord blood stem cells can be kept in frozen storage throughout the baby’s life, just in case he ever needs them. Stem cells from a baby’s umbilical cord are a perfect match for the baby, and they can also be transplanted into siblings or other family members if needed. Cord blood banking can have an initial cost of up to $1000 and there is a yearly storage charge. Therefore, you and your family must consider this cost when deciding whether cord blood banking is right for your baby.

The time to sign up for a cord blood program is before your baby is born. There are a number of companies that provide collection kits that your health care provider can use to retrieve the umbilical cord blood. Once the blood is collected, these companies will transport the collection kit to their laboratory for processing and storage.

Most families never need to use the umbilical cord blood that they have stored for their baby. However, having their baby’s cord blood in storage can provide parents with peace of mind and the knowledge that they are doing everything they possibly can to ensure the health of their child.

Nicolette Caccia, MEd, MD, FRCSC

Rory Windrim, MB, MSc, FRCSC