Ever since the first successful cord blood transplant (CBT) in 1988 to treat Fanconi anemia in a child, the procurement and storage of umbilical cord blood has become a focal point for hospitals and families alike following the birth of a newborn. Institutions across the world have been set up to manage the collection, storage, and distribution of this vital fluid due to its recognized benefits in the treatment of seemingly incurable conditions. It’s had a shaky history since its discovery, what with controversy over its usefulness or safety, but the science behind it has proven sound in the decades since it was introduced.
Cord blood collection and storage are regulated by high-level administrations in the countries that are involved with it, particularly the U.S. and UK. Australia and Europe have also developed their medical industries around the miracles of this panacea, and they’ve developed their own regulations for containing and distributing it. In the U.S., the FDA doesn’t regulate the use of cord blood on the individual from whom it was derived; however, providing it for others classifies it as a drug.
What is Cord Blood?
Cord blood is collected from the placenta of the mother and the umbilical cord of a newborn child during the birthing process. This blood is different from the usual blood that courses the body, containing unusually rich stem cells that can develop into organs, blood vessels, and various types of tissue as needed. In particular, these cells can be used to treat hematopoietic conditions as well as genetic disorders.
While every part of your body contains stem cells, they’re typically only suited for the body to support the immune system and promote growth and repair on a day-to-day basis. These stem cells don’t possess enough of the right qualities to treat the same diseases that cord blood stem cells do, which is why cord blood is collected for this specific purpose. In addition, the stem cells found in cord blood is immature and has no “assigned task,” making it easier to incorporate into another person’s body without being rejected.
It’s not necessarily better to be treated with your own cord blood — it’s largely contingent upon the illness in question. In the treatment of conditions where the body is performing its own repairs, it’s much better to use the patient’s own cells when possible, as this entirely eliminates the odds of rejection. However, in the case of cancer and other complications that involve the reproduction of erroneous cells, introducing a donor’s stem cells is ideal, as they’re unlikely to carry the same defect as the patient’s own stem cells.
What is Cord Blood Banking?
Cord blood collection is a simple process, but the banking conditions are a highly regulated matter in developed countries. Collection involves cutting the umbilical cord from the baby in the usual and painless fashion, then inserting a needle into the umbilical vein to drain up to five ounces of the blood from the placenta into a holding bag. From there, it’s cryogenically stored in a specialized cord blood bank for future medical application, provided it passes testing.
The blood can be donated to the hospital to treat the conditions of another patient, or it can be kept for family usage down the road. The needle used for collection doesn’t come anywhere near the baby during this process, which takes about 10 minutes on average. This causes no harm whatsoever to the mother or her child, as the blood would ordinarily be wasted if not procured and stored in this fashion. Once the process is finished, the family may discuss what to do with the blood.
The routine of clamping and cutting the cord doesn’t depend on the method of birthing, be it vaginal or C-section. However, for those who are looking to delay cord cutting, the best option is to discuss it with a health care provider beforehand. The reason for this couldn’t be plainer. While it’s believed that delayed clamping is beneficial for the newborn, it can also adversely impact the quality of the cord blood once the cord has finally been cut.
The Benefits of Cord Blood Banking
Prior to being stored, cord blood must be tested and processed, after which it’s categorized and stored in either a private or public cord blood bank. Should the family choose to donate the blood, it’ll typically be sent to a public facility to help other people with serious conditions. If you decide to store your newborn’s cord blood for yourself, it may be stored in a private bank instead for a storage fee.
While the blood can be used to treat anyone, it often proves useful in the treatment of unforeseen complications that may crop up in the newborn him- or herself. One of greatest concerns when delivering a new child is whether they may develop autism or other genetic problems down the road; the immature stem cells in cord blood are able to treat these conditions should they present themselves at some point. Other diseases that cord blood can treat are as follows:
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Aplastic anemia
- Sickle cell anemia
- Krabbe disease
- Sanfilippo syndrome
- Various cancers, blood disorders and immune system illnesses
Cord blood has been noted for its unusual effectiveness at reconstituting bone marrow after chemotherapy, making it an exceptional resource in the treatment of leukemia. The qualities of this wondrous vital fluid grant its ability to treat or cure over 80 diseases, many of which could not be effectively handled prior to the discovery of its stem cells’ attributes. Research is always finding new ways to apply cord blood and save lives every day.
This miracle fluid is also being tested in a wide variety of applications, including:
- Cerebral palsy
- Type-1 diabetes
- Congenital heart defects
- Traumatic brain injury
Studies are showing significant improvements in autism within six months of reintroducing the child’s own cord blood to their system. Other studies are ongoing and inconclusive, but positive results have been noted in lab rats with regards to motor impairment resulting from stroke and spinal cord injuries.
The Cost of Cord Blood Banking
In doing your part to protect your family, you may consider storing your newborn’s cord blood, but it comes at a cost. Initially, it can run between $1,000 and $3,000 for the processing fee, after which recurring annual fees are expected to cost between $90 and $175. Fortunately, the initial fee is nothing to sweat if you can’t afford it up-front — no-interest financing plans are typically available to help you out.
Cord blood storage is becoming a more popular option with the passing years. Over one million units of cord blood have been registered at private banks in the U.S. An estimated 5 percent of parents are now opting to have their newborn’s cord blood stored. Out of that 5 percent, roughly 90 percent of the extracted blood is placed in family storage banks while the rest is donated to the public. As prices drop and research turns up more benefits of the blood’s qualities, expect to see more families opt to store it for their own medical treatment down the road.