Cord Blood Banking
Banking your child’s cord blood gives your family access to potentially life-saving treatments later on in life. For a reasonable fee, you can store the cord blood for as long as you need it.
Family banks collect, process and store stem cells from your child’s umbilical cord—for a fee. These stem cells can be used in the future for new and emerging treatments exclusively for your family. Public banks, another option for cord blood donors, will store cord blood for free, but you may not have access to your baby’s stem cells in the future.
What is cord blood banking?
Cord blood banking refers to the collection and storage of stem cells from a child’s umbilical cord. These adaptable cells treat a wide variety of diseases, and will automatically change into the type of cell most needed by the body.
Your two main storage options for cord blood are the following:
- Donating your blood at a public bank, where it can be used for matching patients with a medical condition and clinical research
- Storing cord blood with a private bank, where you will have your child’s stem cells available for any future treatment needs
Medical staff members usually collect cord blood right after birth, but can also wait several minutes if the parents want to participate in delayed cord clamping. The clamping is done just like a normal procedure and is completely painless for both the mother and her baby.
First, the cord is clamped and cut, just like a normal umbilical cord removal. The medical staff must be trained on proper cord blood collections—if they wait too long, the blood clots, and will not be useful for storage.
Then, the blood is extracted. A needle is placed into the cord, and gently pulls out remaining blood. This medical device is kept away from your baby, so the procedure is as safe as possible.
The process takes less than 10 minutes, and up to 5 ounces are collected.
The blood is then shipped out to the bank of your choice, where they test it. If the stem cells are usable, the bank cryogenically freezes the cord blood, so it remains useful decades from now.
Several banks offer cord tissue services, which will increase the amount of stem cells banked for your family—at an additional cost.
Value of cord blood banking
Cord blood is filled with stem cells. These cells greatly improve the body’s natural immune system, and increase healthy blood count. Cord blood cells, also called “units,” can adapt into many different types of cells.
Depending on the situation, a unit may repair vital organs and tissues, generate red and white blood cells and treat a wide variety of diseases. While the body has stem cells in other areas, like bone marrow, hair, tissue and muscles, most organs don’t contain enough cells for an effective transplant.
Cord blood units are often combined with existing treatments. For instance, doctors pair stem cells with chemotherapy to treat deadly conditions like leukemia and lymphoma. The chemotherapy destroys cancerous cells in the body, while a follow-up stem cell transplant generates new blood cells and boosts the immune system.
The biggest advantage of cord blood stem cells are their flexibility. Unlike bone marrow, cord blood doesn’t require a perfect donor match and can fulfill many different purposes once transplanted. This means patients with a mixed ethnic background, who normally can’t find exact matches with a bone marrow transplant, have a viable option for treatment.
In 2012, 38% of Hispanic patients and 44% of African American stem cell patients needed a cord blood procedure. In the next several years, cord blood treatment will become the most popular regenerative therapy in the United States.
Currently, over 80 diseases are treatable using stem cells from cord blood, with more treatments emerging every year. The FDA has approved cord blood therapies for leukemia, aplastic anemia and other dangerous, life-changing diseases.
In addition to current treatments,a clinical trials are looking at new therapies using cord blood. These include cerebral palsy, autism and type 1 diabetes. If current trials are successful, cord blood treatment may become a common practice within the next several years.
Costs of banking
Private banks require a one-time fee for collection, processing and administrative fees—these first-year costs are anywhere from $1,300 to $2,300. Banks also charge yearly for storage in their facilities, which range from $100 to $180. Many family banks offer discounts for pre-paid plans, which usually include 20 years of storage. Financing options are often available for pre-paid plans.
Even public banks pay for their donated cord blood. Many of these units are used for research and transplant patients, and cost a public bank up to $2,500 for each cord blood unit in collection and processing fees.
Here are some tips when looking at pricing for private banks:
- Does the bank offer any discounts if you pay for storage upfront (20 years, etc.)?
- Is the shipping cost—usually called a courier fee—included in your processing payment? Or is the bank charging you for it later?
- Will the bank give you a discount for storing more than one child’s cord blood unit?
- If you are in the military services, will you receive additional discounts?
- You may also want to check for coupons, and other discounts the company may offer.
If you have a family member with a serious medical condition, you may qualify for a charity program—this means you don’t have to pay for the processing and storage of your child’s cord blood. Your personal finances don’t matter in these situations, as long as the relative’s condition is approved for treatment using cord blood, and the bank you choose offers a charity program. In order for your child to be considered, your doctor must fill out a form on your family’s medical history.
While there is no current government funding for charity programs, a few private banks offer programs if a parent or close sibling may need treatment with cord blood stem cells. Private banks fund these cases themselves, and often use grants from charity partnerships. These organizations have their own requirements for eligibility, so be sure to check with any potential bank about their charity program options.
Cord blood viability
Many parents are concerned about the viability of cord blood—will the cells they bank today still be usable twenty years from now? Researchers state frozen cord blood has no expiration date. This means cryogenically preserved stem cells still function properly decades from now. One scientist tested the viability of 23-year-old cord blood, and the sample remained in perfect condition.
Any family can benefit from stored cord blood, but for families with a history of dangerous medical conditions, including leukemia, lymphoma and immune deficiency diseases, access to stem cells is even more valuable.
Expectant mothers with health conditions also benefit more than others when banking cord blood, especially if they have a high risk for premature birth. This causes life-altering birth defects, which may be treated by a collection of stored cord blood units.
As clinical trials test new treatment methods using cord blood, more options will become available to families banking cord blood. While the current treatment list stands at around 80, new therapies are added every year.
The future of cord blood
While cord blood—and the field of regenerative studies, in general—is still growing, many researchers and medical professionals are optimistic about the future of stem cell therapy.
Choosing to bank your child’s cord blood may save lives, as the number of stored cord blood units grow every year. In the United States, over 1 million units of cord blood are kept in family banks, and nearly 200,000 units are registered in public banks. Over 400,000 additional units are available through international organizations.
For expectant parents, the most important thing to remember are the options available to you—you can either donate your baby’s cord blood, which may help future patients and researchers, or save stem cells for your family’s safety.
While the decision is up to you, you only have one chance to save your child’s cord blood—right after birth.