What is umbilical cord blood banking?

What is umbilical cord blood banking?

Umbilical cord blood banking is a procedure where your OB takes some of the blood (and now tissue) from the placenta and umbilical cord after your baby is born and the cord has been cut. You may never have thought about what we do with that stuff.

What happens to your baby's umbilical cord?

In the past, it has usually been discarded as medical waste, although some women want to take it home with them. Over the last two decades medical advances have been developed in which the cells from that blood can be used to treat several diseases. The cells have unique characteristics that allow them to change into a multitude of different cell types (called pluripotent cells.) The idea is that some children and adults with certain genetic abnormalities or certain cancers can benefit from these cells. The cells can be grown to replenish the normal cells or treat abnormal cells.

The options for umbilical cord banking are divided primarily into what’s called public and private cord blood banking.

Private cord banking

Private cord banking is just what it sounds like: we collect the blood at the time of your delivery and you send it to a business that processes it and stores it for you. The cost of this varies currently from somewhere between $2000 and $3000 for initial processing and from about $120 and $300 per year to store it. In this case, you are storing the cells for yourself and your family.

Public cord banking

Alternatively, public cord banking is something anyone who delivers at certain hospitals has the opportunity to do. There is a public cord blood system that has been growing since 1990 that is similar to the blood bank and is used for individuals who need the blood due to illness or injury.

At Swedish, all patients can donate cord blood to the Puget Sound Blood Center. The cord blood collected for this bank is available to all individuals based on need. The cord blood collected is not specifically available to the individual who donated it. We are happy to collect blood from all families, but are finding increased needs in patients who are ethnic minorities or a mixed race couple. The cord blood also can be directed to Fred Hutchinson Research Center for ongoing research regarding current and future treatments.

Isn't cord blood banking controversial?

There are some issues related to cord blood banking that are somewhat controversial.

One is the quoted likelihood that these cells would be helpful for the treatment of currently recognized diseases in your child or family member. According to the American College of OB/GYNs, there is no reliable estimate of the likelihood of needing this. Some experts feel that number is 1/2700 at most, and others feel it is much lower.

Additionally, it should be noted that the cells can’t be used for the child they were collected from in certain diseases. I just hope that we are able to give accurate information about the effectiveness and likelihood that the cells will be needed from the private companies that promote it. Washington State has made it mandatory that we discuss this subject with everyone. I plan to discuss it with all my patients, but it makes me wonder who promoted that piece of legislation. 

I support ongoing research into this area as the potential is great. But don’t we have enough things to question ourselves about as parents? Do we really want someone making us feel guilty if we choose not to do this? It may be a financial decision or another reason that we choose not to.

I realize this is a complex subject, so if you have any more questions about it, just ask your OB at your visit. (If you are looking for an OB/GYN, here is more information about Minor & James OB/GYN.)

By the way, I have no financial interest in the products discussed above. It’s only fair for you to know what my bias could be, right?

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Additional Resources: 

National Marrow Donor Program
Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Banks 
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association of Blood Banks

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