Frequently Asked Questions
Find out everything you need to know about cord blood — what it is, how it’s used, diseases it can treat — and determine if banking is the right choice for your family.
About cord blood
What is cord blood?
“Cord blood” refers to blood from the umbilical cord and placenta. While the cord is traditionally discarded after birth, cord blood contains powerful stem cells useful to medical treatment. Researchers are finding more reasons to bank cord blood every year. Severe diseases, like cancer and cerebral palsy, may be treated with stem cells found in cord blood.
What are cord blood stem cells?
Stem cells in the umbilical cord and placenta are different from bone marrow stems cells, which have been the treatment standard for stem cell therapies. Since cells found in cord blood adapt and grow in different environments, researchers believe cord blood may be the solution to many dangerous health conditions. Part of an emerging field of medicine called regenerative therapy, stem cells may treat brain injuries, hearing loss, autism and other diseases.
Why do umbilical cords have stem cells?
Stem cells are in many organs, but they are most plentiful in your blood system. When the body goes through stress or trauma, more cells are created. During birth, a child’s blood is full of stem cells, many of which can be retained in the umbilical cord.
How are cord blood stem cells used today?
The stem cells found in cord blood treat over 80 diseases, including several types of cancer. In most cases, doctors search public registries to find matching stem cell donors. Since bone marrow donors are lacking, especially with ethnic minorities, cord blood donations are helpful. Stem cells from cord blood are more adaptable than bone marrow stem cells, which means cord blood cells do not require an exact match from a donor.
How long have doctors used stem cells?
Since the 1980’s, doctors have used stem cells from bone marrow to treat several types of cancer. Several years later, cord blood cells were introduced as an alternative treatment for patients that couldn’t receive a bone marrow transplant.
Are cord blood cells different than bone marrow cells?
Yes. Compared to bone marrow, cord blood cells are “immature”, which means they haven’t been exposed to disease. Cells from the umbilical cord are more adaptable, and may be used in a wider variety of patients. Cord blood stem cells are less likely to cause side effects when transplanted, and are available to patients immediately. Cord blood cells are also much easier to collect, and cause no pain to the donor.
Does the amount of stem cells affect treatment?
Yes. More stem cells mean a patient has more treatment options. Patients given a larger amount of cells show faster healing and fewer side effects.
What is HLA matching?
Doctors use HLA matching for patients in need of a stem cell transplant. There are six main proteins in white blood cells and tissue located inside the body. Doctors match the patient’s cells with donor cells, so all six proteins are identical. However, cord blood doesn’t require perfect matching, which means patients have more donor options.
Cord blood treatments
How many cord blood stem cells can be used in the future?
According to medical researchers, children with stored cord blood will have more medical options later in life. Current diseases treated include lymphoma, leukemia and autoimmune disorders. Clinical trials are researching cord blood therapy for brain and spine injuries, autism, hearing loss, type 1 diabetes and other dangerous conditions.
Can my child use their own cord blood?
In some cases, children are able to receive their own stem cells for treatment. Cancers and genetic diseases may require stem cells from another donor. However, if recent clinical trials are successful, autologous cord blood cells will be adopted as a therapy for cerebral palsy and other major diseases – this means your child can use his or her own stem cells for treatment.
What if someone in my family has a disease that can be treated with cord blood?
You may be able to store your child’s cord blood for free if you have a family member in need of a transplant. Many banks offer related donor programs, which are listed on our “Charity Programs” page.
What is graft-versus-host disease?
Graft-versus-host disease is a common – and dangerous – side effect for stem cell transplants. This condition occurs when new cells fight against the patient’s existing cellular system, which can be lethal. Since cord blood cells are more adaptable than other cells, like bone marrow, they have a much smaller chance of graft-versus-host disease.
Cord blood banking
Why store cord blood?
Cord blood contains hematopoietic cells, used in an emerging field of medicine called regenerative therapy. Diseases like cerebral palsy, hearing loss and diabetes may be treated with cord blood. While harvesting bone marrow cells is painful and time-consuming, cord blood can be transplanted instantly and causes no harm to the mother or baby.
Children from a mixed ethnic background will have a harder time finding a bone marrow donor, so banking cord blood is especially valuable for these patients.
How is cord blood collected?
Cord blood is collected after birth. The process is painless, and cells contained in the cord are active throughout the next several days. This allows medical staff to ship the blood to a storage facility, where the cells are cryogenically frozen and remain secure for decades.
What choice do I have for storing my child’s cord blood?
Private banks are available to families for an annual fee. Any mother that meets the criteria may donate cord blood to a public bank.
What types of banks store cord blood?
There are two types of banks – public and private.
Public banks store cord blood for patients in need of a transplant. Most donations are not useful for long-term treatments, and are discarded or used for research. While a donation can save a life, you may not retrieve stem cells for your family if you need them.
Family, or private, banks store cord blood for your use only. Parents own the cord blood until the baby turns 18. The child, a sibling, or another close family member may use stored cord blood when needed.
How do I donate to a public bank?
Public donations help patients in need of a transplant, or may supply researchers with valuable stem cells. If you choose to store your child’s stem cells in a public bank, their cells may be used to find new treatments. Donated cells can also be used for any patient that requires regenerative therapy.
If I need a transplant, can I use a public bank?
Yes, but doctors prefer cells from a patient’s existing family, since related stem cells have fewer complications.
Who is eligible to bank cord blood?
In order to donate cord blood a mother must:
- Contact a public bank to receive approval and a mail-in kit
- Register by the 34th week of pregnancy
- Pass a health screening test
Who uses my child’s cord blood cells?
If you use a private bank, any member of your family can use your child’s stem cells. Siblings are often a perfect match, but other family members, such as cousins, aunts and uncles, may also be treated. Your child can use their own cells for certain treatments, but not for inherited genetic conditions.
What are the costs of banking cord blood?
While public banks don’t charge for donations, roughly $30,000 is needed for a patient using cord blood to treat a disease – this is covered by health insurance. Family banks typically charge between $1300 to $2200 for collection and processing, with an average of $125 in yearly storage fees.
How long can I store cord blood cells?
Researchers believe cord blood cells will remain useable indefinitely. The longest-stored unit of cord blood is several decades old, and the cells are in perfect condition.
If I have multiple children, should I save cord blood for each?
Yes. Your children can use each other’s stem cells for treatment, and having access to more cells means you have a greater amount of treatment options in the future.
What are my family’s chances of using cord blood?
In the past two decades, the chances of using cord blood have increased dramatically. As more researchers find new possibilities for stem cells, the need for cord blood will grow. Right now, about 1 in 200 patients require cord blood in their lifetime. However, cord blood treatments are currently being researched for conditions like cerebral palsy and diabetes, which will make cord blood therapy more common in the next several years.
Cord blood risks
Is my baby at risk during the procedure?
After the umbilical cord is removed, medical staff will extract stem cells in a different room. Your child is in no danger from stem cell removal.
Does storing cord blood take cells away from my baby?
No. Stem cells are collected after the umbilical cord is clamped. Your baby will not experience anything different than they would in a normal birth procedure. Medical staff will remove cells from your child’s cord blood in a completely different room – the mother and child are not affected in any way.
If my family has a good medical history, should I still store cord blood?
It depends on the family. With new treatments emerging every year, your family has a chance of using cord blood cells during their lifetime. Even with a perfect medical history, choosing to bank your child’s cord blood is still a safe decision. Certain illnesses, like leukemia, are not hereditary and can happen at any time.
Can I choose to do delayed cord clamping and cord blood banking?
Yes. Delayed cord clamping allows blood from the umbilical cord to return into your baby’s system, reducing the risk for iron deficiency. The World Health Organization suggests that delayed cord clamping last 1-3 minutes.
Medical staff only need about 25% of umbilical cord blood for storage, and at 3 minutes, only half of the blood in your child’s cord has filtered back into their body. This means doctors can delay cord clamping for several minutes and your child will still have more than enough stem cells left over for banking.
What is cord tissue?
Cord tissue refers to the actual umbilical cord material. The cord contains additional stem cells, which are under research for their healing properties. Many banks allow you to store your child’s umbilical cord, along with their cord blood. These additional cells may become more valuable in the next several years as more treatment options become available.
Is cord tissue different from cord blood?
Yes. The type of cells found in cord tissue, called mesenchymal cells, are different than cells in cord blood (hematopoietic cells). Basically, both cell types assist in the healing process, but they work differently. Banking cord tissue may give your family more treatment options in the future.
Which treatments use cord tissue?
Cord tissue specifically works in the spinal cord, brain and cartilage. Clinical trials are currently underway for treatments using cord tissue, and new therapies may only be a few years away. However, most research for cord tissue is still untested.
How does cord tissue banking work?
After cord blood is taken from your baby’s umbilical cord, up to 8 inches of cord are cut and stored in a medical container. This piece of tissue travels – along with the cord blood – to a storage facility, where the cells are removed and put into cryogenic storage.