In an age where technology and medicine are closely intertwined, it’s often shocking to realize what primitive practitioners thought was beneficial for curing disease. In the Victorian era, for example, respected physicians believed that removing blood from a sick person would balance their body and lead to better health.
Today, even children understand that blood is critical to health and well-being, and many medicines are made using whole blood cells, plasma or stem cells. Cord blood is a particularly important product in modern medicine because as many as 50 percent of all pediatric therapies make use of it. Still, numerous myths and misunderstandings abound about what cord blood is, how it is collected and what it is used for.
What is Cord Blood?
A human infant is nourished inside the mother’s uterus with a temporary organ called the placenta which attaches to the wall of the uterus and connects to the baby’s abdomen via an umbilical cord. The mother’s circulatory system carries nutrients to the baby through the placenta and cord until the child is born. Upon birth, this temporary organ is no longer needed. A doctor will clamp and cut the umbilical cord, and the mother’s body will discard the placenta. However, some blood, known as cord blood, remains inside both the cord and the placenta.
Many people have heard of stem cells but very few understand what makes this type of cell so useful in medicine. Cells make up every body system, and bone cells are different than muscle cells which are different than nerve cells. However, every cell originated from a stem cell. Stem cells are very young cells that can not only multiply themselves quickly but can evolve into other types of cell. In other words, they haven’t decided what they want to be yet, so they can become anything that your body needs. Cord blood cells contain a type of stem cell, known as hematopoietic stem cells, which work within your body’s circulatory system.
What is Cord Blood Banking?
The act of harvesting and saving cord blood is known as cord blood banking. Like any other type of blood banking, public cord blood banks are regulated by the FDA to make sure that the supply is safe for patients. The process of obtaining cord blood, however, is quite different than either traditional blood donation or other types of stem cell extraction.
When a baby is born, the cord and placenta are usually discarded as medical waste. When a mother wants to donate her baby’s cord blood, however, different procedures are used. If you are considering cord blood banking, you should be aware of several processes.
- You can bank cord blood regardless of whether you have a vaginal birth or a cesarean section.
- Extracting cord blood is a non-intrusive procedure that is ethical, safe, and painless for both a mother and her baby.
- Delayed cord cutting is still possible with cord blood banking so long as the cord is cut within five minutes of birth.
There are two different procedures used to save cord blood. The cord blood is either extracted from the cord and placenta using a syringe or retrieved by hanging the placenta above the collection bag so that the cord blood can drain out. The cord blood flows into a sterile collection container marked with a number to identify the donor and is then transported to a licensed facility for processing or storage. There are two different types of cord blood banking facilities.
- Private blood bank – This type of cord blood bank holds units in storage for the original owner. Private blood banks charge a fee to process and store cord blood, but the blood will be kept indefinitely for your family and not available for public use.
- Public blood bank – Cord blood donated to a public blood bank is available for the general population and used freely to create critical medicines whenever needed.
Choosing to bank cord blood after giving birth to a child is considered very beneficial. As Dr. Marra Francis, an Ob/Gyn and CBR medical consultant says, “There’s only two things that (you can) potentially buy your new baby that are lifesaving: One is a good car seat and the other is cord blood.”
Benefits of Cord Blood Banking
While labs can synthesize many modern medicines, some therapies must be derived from living blood cells. There are a total of 80 different diseases that are treated using the hematopoietic stem cells in cord blood, ranging from blood diseases like leukemia and lymphoma to things like anemia and sickle cell disease. Cord blood cells can even help people with conditions like osteoporosis and tumors.
In some cases, cord blood therapies are the only available treatment for a disease while other disorders make use of cord blood products as a supporting therapy for another primary treatment regimen. In either case, hematopoietic stem cells are critical to curing many patients.
And there’s still much more potential in cord blood. New advances in medicine are leading to new ways that cord blood can be used to treat or combat different ailments and disease. As Dr. LeeAnn Jensen, an immunologist at the National Institutes of Health states, “Just like we didn’t envision the powers of PCs thirty years ago, we may not be seeing all the uses of cord blood yet.”
What Does It Cost?
If you are donating your baby’s cord blood to a public bank, there is no cost to you. Extracting and processing the cord blood is part of the expense of therapy and may be covered by the recipient’s insurance or by a non-profit charity. Like with any blood donation, FDA regulations require the unit to be tracked and tested, and you may need to fill out additional paperwork to complete your donation. However, knowing that your baby’s cord blood will save lives makes this extra effort worth it.
For private cord blood banking, the cost varies and will depend on which blood bank you choose to use. Most private blood banks charge between $900 and $2,000 to initially extract, ship, and process your baby’s cord blood. You can also expect an annual fee for continued storage which may be as little as $100 per year. Whatever choice you make, your cord blood bank should be appropriately licensed and regulated to ensure the safety of your cord blood should you ever need it.
Cord blood cells are essential to many medical therapies, and without them, doctors would be unable to cure many serious conditions. Luckily, every time a baby is born, cord blood can be safely and comfortably extracted, and there is every reason to consider offering a gift of life by banking your baby’s cord blood.