Some people may have heard of cord blood banking, but it is something that is slowly gaining more attention in the public eye. As is so often the case when one hears the words ‘stem cell transplant’, this is a subject that is often controversial as there have been many reports about how stem cells are obtained and used. Most frequently, questions are raised about the ethics of using these type of cells and what they are used for. Stem cell research has raised a lot of eyebrows in the past, but for those who are afflicted, loved ones who are afflicted and for those yet to be diagnosed with a disease that can be treated, this method can be a source of hope where sometimes there may be none.
Of course you will be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure your child will be protected for as long as possible, and be as healthy as possible, so the best way to make sure you make the best choice for you, is to gain as much information as you can. There are many sources of information on this topic, so take the time to find out as much as possible. It is a potentially lifesaving procedure well worth the time of investigation.
What is cord blood banking?
Cord blood is what remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after the birth of a baby. Usually, this is discarded. Cord blood is rich in vital blood stem cells, these are very similar to those found in bone marrow. Research has discovered that it can be used to treat various types of cancer, genetic disorders and immune deficiencies. Research is ongoing, showing that there are many more conditions that can be treated.
What methods are used to collect cord blood?
Once the baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped, wiped with antiseptic, then a needle is inserted into one of the veins to withdraw the blood. This can be repeated many times from different veins.
The other way is to let gravity collect the blood down the tube into a bag. This is the more popular method, as there is less of a chance of contamination.
Is it worth it?
First of all it is easy to confuse blood cord stem cells with embryonic stem cells. They are two different things. Blood cord stem cells are taken after birth from the cord. Embryonic stem cells are taken from a fetus.
Stem cells are so important as they reproduce themselves as they are immature cells. They can turn into other types of cell. The proper term is ‘Hematopoietic progenitor cells or ‘HPC’s.
People suffering from sickle cell anemia, lymphoma, and leukemia can be injected with these cells, and what happens is that the blood is replenished to provide the recipients blood with healthy cells.
About the cord blood
The blood collected from the umbilical cord is rich in stem cells that can be used to treat a range of diseases. This can include:
- Malignancies of the blood – e.g. leukemia or lymphoma
- Metabolic disorders – these affect the breakdown of waste in the body
- Immunodeficiency’s – The immune system is impaired
- Bone marrow failure – Bone marrow that is not able to produce cells
- Haemoglobinopathies – blood disorders, sickle cell anemia, and thalassemia
With research, more conditions have been found to be treatable with stem cell cord blood. Stem cells have the ability to make new red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, to make white cells which prevent infection and platelets which we need to help clot our blood.
Public cord blood banking
When considering if you would like to bank your cord blood you need to know how the system works. If you choose to bank your blood with a public health bank then you need to remember that you understand the differences between that and a private blood bank. With a public bank it is important to be aware that;
- Banking your cord blood free of charge
- The cord blood is stored for future use
- Your cord blood may be discarded
- You need to contact the bank before the 34th week of pregnancy
- You will lose identifying information after testing.
- You will not be able to retrieve your own blood after donation
- It may be stored indefinitely
- Donations are made available for public use, they are not kept for whoever provided them or their families
If a cord blood transplant is necessary for you, your child or a member of your family there will be a public cord blood bank search for a suitable tissue match, even if it comes from a different source. It may or may not have been the one that you donated
Public banks do not charge storage fees, so there may not always be funds needed to maintain that bank
Although the blood is put through many tests, some genetic information may contain disorders which may not have become apparent in the donor until months or years later, and all identifying information has been deleted. It is important to recognize this as a concern.
Private blood cord banking
The first thing to do is make sure you know the credentials of the private bank you are considering.
Other things to consider are:
- Private cord blood banking is expensive – check the costs, there is usually an upfront collection fee and then an annual rate is usually charged
- Retrieving your cord blood may not always be possible – check the viability of the bank
- Siblings are likely to be a match for each other
- Minority ethnic groups have more difficulty finding a perfectly matched donor
- There can be better outcomes when donor and patient are related
- Check rules that inform you about the ownership of your cord blood. Will you keep all rights and privileges or will it be used without your approval?
- With most private banking facilities the mother owns all rights to her cord blood, until the minor turns eighteen.
- Private Banks do not guarantee the individual the chance to have perfectly matched stem cells stored for future use.
- Nobody knows what the future holds for the potential uses of cord blood.
This is a very personal decision to make with many things to consider. You have to find the best approach for you, your family and possible future family. This is fairly new process and one that is proving to be lifesaving. As always with anything that concerns health it is always best to seek the advice of a qualified health professional to talk over concerns and to gain up to date information.