What is cord blood?
When a baby is born, some blood remains in the umbilical cord and placenta once it has been detached; this is known as cord blood. Traditionally, these items have been discarded as medical waste, however, parents are increasingly recognizing the significance and value of the cord blood, and also understand the many sound reasons to bank the blood in case it is required at some future point. This increased awareness has led to an increase in the taking of cord blood and the use of umbilical cord stem cells in treating patients.
How is cord blood collected and used?
Collection must take place immediately after the birth, as soon as the cord has been detached from the newborn. A syringe is used to draw the blood out of the placenta, through the umbilical cord.
The parents will have chosen beforehand whether to have the blood banked privately (for a significant fee) so that it can be retained specifically for their child and other family members, or they can choose to donate it to a public bank, so that it can help others in need.
Cord blood has an undeniable potential to save lives. It contains valuable stem cells, which can be used to treat over 60 different types of illness, from blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia, to cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. Stem cells have the ability to transform themselves into almost any type of cell; they can be used to repair bodily tissue, organs and blood vessels. There is a great deal of ongoing medical research into new uses for cord blood – many scientists are hopeful that in the future it will be possible to use it to treat mental disorders, and to grow tissue to repair injuries.
What can cord blood prevent and how can it protect my child?
Cord blood allows parents to safeguard their child, by retaining a potential cure for them should they develop a life threatening illness in the future. Research has shown that a child has a 1 in 435 chance of needing a transplant of their own stem cells during their lifetime, or a 1 in 400 chance of needing a transplant of someone else’s stem cells during their lifetime. A child’s cord blood can be used to treat him or her in the future, or it could be used to treat a sibling who requires a stem cell transplant.
The other benefits of using cord blood
Cord blood can be used as an alternative to other stem cell sources, such as bone marrow. One main advantage of cord blood is that it does not have to match the donor as closely as does bone marrow – therefore it has the potential to help a wider number of recipients.
The collection of cord blood does not affect the mother or the newborn in any way; in contrast, bone marrow harvesting can be extremely painful, and can cause complications for the donor.
This post has been contributed by Katie Green.