Cord blood banking is storing and preserving umbilical cord blood from an infant for future medical use. Umbilical blood is rich in stem cells that can grow into any cell in the body. The kind of stem cells found in cord blood is called hematopoietic stem cells, which are grown into blood cells. Cord blood stem cells are used to treat blood and immune diseases, some genetic diseases, and blood cancers.
The alternative to using stem cells for treatment is collecting and transplanting marrow from a donor. The problem is that it is very difficult to find a donor match for marrow even within the same family. However, stem cells from cord blood are easier to match. If parents choose, they can donate their infant’s cord blood to a public bank. These public cord blood banks are operated under the National Marrow Donor Program. Once the cord blood is donated, it becomes available to anybody who needs it. Donated cord blood cannot be recovered by the family. For ethical reasons, donated cord blood or any donated human specimen becomes anonymous.
It is also possible to have your infant’s cord blood collected and stored in a private bank for the future medical needs of the infant and your family. Private cord blood banks are very costly at around $2500 per collection. After an initial deposit for harvest and processing, the family pays additional annual rent for the storage of their cord blood. The probability of a person needing any kind of stem cell treatment or transplant in their lifetime is very low at 1 in 217. Too often, private cord blood banks do not collect enough stem cells to even be useful as a treatment.
Because it costs so much and the guarantees are so low, the medical community does not advise parents to use private cord blood banks unless their baby or a sibling is already ill or has a high chance of becoming ill with a genetic disease. The US FDA regulates both public and private cord banks. And all private cord banks need to be accredited.
Should parents decide to collect and store their baby’s cord blood, they will need to notify the public or private cord blood bank at least three weeks before delivery. Cord blood collection does not hurt the mother or baby at all. The umbilical cord is cut during birth, and the umbilical cord and even sometimes the placenta are collected fresh within ten minutes of birth. It is then set in sterile ice and couriered to a laboratory.
At least 75 ml of cord blood needs to be collected in order to get enough cells to use in a medical transplant. At the stem cell laboratory, the cord blood is tested for viruses such as HIV, Hepa B, and Hepa C. It undergoes cell typing and other tests to determine the viability of the cord blood. If the blood is contaminated, it would be pointless to have it stored. Cord blood is cryopreserved using liquid nitrogen in a slow freezing process. This keeps the cells alive so it can be stored for several years.