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Banking on the Benefits of Cord Blood

By Richard N. Waldman, MD

By Richard N. Waldman, MD
President, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

During pregnancy, many women are asked whether they plan to bank their baby’s cord blood. Once considered a waste product, umbilical cord blood contains stem cells that can be used to treat certain illnesses such as blood and immune system disorders.

The stem cells found in cord blood are also found in bone marrow; however, cord blood collection is easier and less risky for the donor. Blood is collected from the umbilical cord after the baby is delivered. It is a simple and painless procedure that lasts about 10 minutes.

After collection, cord blood is either stored at a private cord blood bank or donated to a public bank to be included in national cord blood registries.

Private banks charge a fee to store umbilical cord blood for “directed donation.” This means that the same blood collected at your baby’s birth is held indefinitely in case your child or a family member develops a disease that can be treated with stem cells.

Stem cells are not a miracle cure, and it’s important to remember that there is only a remote chance—roughly 1 in 2,700—that an infant will be able to use its own cord blood in the future. Many diseases cannot be treated with a person’s own stem cells. Babies born with genetic diseases cannot use their own cord blood stem cells because the blood may include the same genes that cause their disorder. And because it is not known how long cord blood can be stored, there is no guarantee that privately-banked blood will be available to the same child or his or her relatives.

Public cord blood banks, which operate much like typical blood banks, provide donated cord blood stem cells to any person who needs it and is an appropriate match. There is no fee associated with public cord blood bank donations. Public banks use a rigorous screening process that tests both the infant’s and the mother’s blood. An in-depth medical history is also taken from the mother and father to learn of any blood or immune system disorders or other problems.

Travel to certain countries, exposure to some vaccines, illegal drug use, high-risk sexual behavior, a history of cancer on either side of the family, or the mother or father being adopted are all factors that may rule out cord blood being accepted into a public bank. Additionally, if the mother has herpes, genital warts, or an infection of the placenta or amniotic fluid, the cord blood probably will not be collected, as it is more likely that the blood may carry an infection.

For more information, the Patient Education Pamphlet “Cord Blood Banking” is available at www.acog.org/publications/patient_education.

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