Cord blood banking
Jordan H. Perlow, MD, is a maternal fetal medicine specialist and director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. His office can be reached at (602) 839-2647.
Question: What is cord blood banking and why should I consider it?
Answer: Cord blood banking is a process of harvesting and storing stem cell rich blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta after a baby is born for the purpose of treating a wide range of health conditions.
Historically, cord blood was considered medical waste. And while it is still discarded in most cases today, increased understanding of the many life-saving benefits of cord blood stem cells has opened the door to both private and public banking options.
Private cord blood banking enables people to pay to have stem cells harvested and stored for family use down the road. Public banking is a free alternative that allows almost anyone to donate their baby’s cord blood stem cells for the benefit of others.
Similar to blood and bone marrow donation, cord blood donation for public use entails categorizing, processing and banking stems cells before making them available to virtually anyone in the world. Some private cord blood banks also preserve a segment of the actual umbilical cord, a plentiful source of cells.
While bone marrow transplantation, which uses stem cells found in bone marrow, requires a near perfect human leukocyte antigen (HLA) match between the donor and recipient, cord blood stem cell transplantation has proven more tolerable to slightly higher degrees of HLA mismatch – likely because the cells are younger. And, given that they are more plentiful and accessible, cord blood stem cells have the potential to benefit more people.
It was once thought that cord blood stem cells could only be used to help a family member suffering from leukemia or lymphoma. This was the case in 1988 when the world’s first cord blood stem cell transplant that was performed using cells from the umbilical cord of a baby girl to save the life of her four-year-old brother. Today, he is a healthy, hematologically normal 28-year-old.
Since 1988, cord blood stem cells have treated more than 75 diseases in more than 30,000 people worldwide. In addition to treating rare genetic and malignant conditions like leukemia and even metabolism disorders, research shows cord blood stem cells may one day treat chronic and common diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and autoimmune disorders. Studies also show promise in using them to treat cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injuries.
The decision to participate in cord blood banking, either for private use or public donation, is a personal one. Speak with your obstetrician, and visit the websites of trusted organizations like the March of Dimes to learn more about cord blood banking and the options available.