How does Cord Blood Preservation Work?

L. Whitaker
L. Whitaker
Cord blood preservation allows families to save blood from an umbilical cord for a period of time.
Cord blood preservation allows families to save blood from an umbilical cord for a period of time.

Cord blood preservation, sometimes referred to as cord blood banking, is a means of collecting, processing, and storing the blood located inside the umbilical cord immediately after the birth of a child. Cord blood is rich in stem cells that can be used in the treatment of some medical conditions. Cord blood preservation is controversial because it is an expensive and relatively new process with no guarantee of future viability.

Collecting cord blood at birth requires advance planning.
Collecting cord blood at birth requires advance planning.

Cord blood is the name for the blood cells left within the placenta and umbilical cord, which are generally discarded after birth when they are no longer needed to provide nutrients to the fetus. Cord blood contains a large number of stem cells that can develop into any type of body organ or tissue, making them more effective for transplant purposes than bone marrow. Cord blood must be collected within 15 minutes of the birth and must be processed by the blood bank within 48 hours.

An umbilical cord is a thick, blood-rich cord that connects a baby to its mother during the gestation process.
An umbilical cord is a thick, blood-rich cord that connects a baby to its mother during the gestation process.

Cord blood banking requires advance planning, the presence at the birth of medical caregivers who are experienced in collecting cord blood, and the availability of a nearby cord blood preservation facility. Individuals interested in banking their child's cord blood should contact a local blood bank that is accredited, such as by the American Association of Blood Banks. The blood bank will provide a kit for use in collecting the cord blood at the time of birth.

Cord blood preservation is possible with either vaginal or cesarean birth. After the umbilical cord is clamped, an experienced medical professional collects the cord blood using a syringe or by elevating the cord so that the blood falls into a container. No pain or discomfort is associated with the blood removal procedure because there is no sensation in the umbilical cord tissue once it is clamped. There is a risk that the newborn will develop anemia if the umbilical cord is clamped too soon after the birth occurs.

Once collected, the cord blood is rushed to the blood bank by a courier. At the blood bank, the cord blood is assigned an identification number. Stem cells are separated from the rest of the blood and cryogenically frozen with liquid nitrogen.

For those who do not intend to bank cord blood for personal use, donation is another option. Cord blood that is donated to a public bank will not be available for the donor's future private use. Donating cord blood is free but requires the presence of a local public blood bank.

Cord blood preservation is sometimes described as a kind of insurance to increase the likelihood that a future medical condition in the child or a family member could be effectively treated. It is controversial because it is costly and does not guarantee the future viability of stored stem cells. In addition, it is considered statistically unlikely that an individual will ever use privately stored cord blood. Most medical procedures that utilize stem cells derived from cord blood are done on children and young people, because adults require a prohibitively large quantity of stem cells for effective treatment. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends donating cord blood to public banks rather than storing it for private use, except in the case of families whose older child has certain genetic conditions.

Stem cells are currently used to treat some types of leukemia and some congenital autoimmune disorders. Experimental use applies to diseases including systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. It is anticipated that stem cells could eventually provide treatment breakthroughs for other conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy, or diabetes.

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    • Cord blood preservation allows families to save blood from an umbilical cord for a period of time.
      By: JPC-PROD
      Cord blood preservation allows families to save blood from an umbilical cord for a period of time.
    • Collecting cord blood at birth requires advance planning.
      By: Dalia Drulia
      Collecting cord blood at birth requires advance planning.
    • An umbilical cord is a thick, blood-rich cord that connects a baby to its mother during the gestation process.
      By: massimo maghenzani
      An umbilical cord is a thick, blood-rich cord that connects a baby to its mother during the gestation process.