What is Cord Blood Banking?

Read our Advertiser Disclosure.
Contributor, Benzinga
August 24, 2022

Cord blood banking can treat a wide range of illnesses. This type of blood contains high concentrations of special stem cells. The stem cells collected from the umbilical cord can assist with autoimmune disorders and other diseases. The process of cord blood banking often occurs when a medical professional such as an obstetrician-gynecologist takes blood from an umbilical cord after the birth of a baby. The cord blood is then collected and processed. Cord blood banking has the potential to save lives. 

Why Collect Cord Blood?

Collected cord blood treats many diseases. The diseases that cord blood is known to combat range from leukemia to sickle cell anemia. The cord blood often helps improve an individual’s immune system and bone marrow. The blood that’s found within the umbilical cord is considered special because it treats a wide range of illnesses. Although it tends to work best for the child and mother, the blood can also assist other people if the results from testing for matches prove beneficial. Collecting cord blood remains an excellent option for parents and people with histories of certain illnesses. Cord blood collection is recommended for people interested in taking a proactive approach to potential future illnesses. As the saying goes, health is wealth. 

Stem Cells

Collecting cord blood and cord tissue is important because the stem cells they contain can transform into other human cells. Stem cells offer flexibility and adaptability that can prove useful when treating certain cancers. 

The stem cells collected from cord blood offer almost 10 times the number of stem cells that can be collected using alternative types of collection. The process of collecting stem cells from a clamped umbilical cord after birth is considered an easier process than collecting stem cells from bone marrow.

Stem cells collected from cord blood are viewed as more favorable than those collected from bone marrow because the stem cells from cord blood have a lower likelihood of passing on blood-borne illnesses. 

Scarcity of Cord Blood

Cord blood remains a scarce resource for both research and stem cell transplants because of a low and limited supply. The amount of cord blood that can be collected remains relatively low because only so much can be collected after birth. 

The blood is drawn from a clamped umbilical cord after birth and placed into a sterile bag. Cord blood is tested before it is accepted by a cord blood bank. Not every unit of cord blood meets the specified criteria. For example, some units of cord blood are not deemed worth the resources to cryogenically save because they lack stem cells. The cord blood is examined to make sure that it is not contaminated and does not contain any potential diseases. Blood is also tested to know if it has a high-enough level of blood-forming cells. Such inspections help create safeguards for people interested in obtaining cord blood for treatment. Cord blood that does not meet the strict standards for transplant use can be used for research. 

The process of collecting cord blood for public cord blood banks is often not possible with twins because they are often born much smaller than other babies in addition to often having less cord blood. Public banks typically do not allow collections from twin births. In contrast, private banks will store cord blood from twins for possible use by the family. 

Treating Family Illnesses

Private cord blood banks are an excellent option in case one of your children becomes sick. If one of your children becomes ill, then having saved their cord blood or cord tissue can boost their immune system or improve bone marrow. Having a child’s previously saved cord blood from their umbilical cord improves the likelihood of a successful transplant. The blood fights certain cancers as well as specific blood disorders. 

An additional benefit of cord blood banking is that other siblings and close family members can use the blood. Using the stem cells from a sibling can prove useful if one of your children develops a genetic disorder. For example, a person with a genetic disorder such as cystic fibrosis cannot be treated by their own cord blood. Cord blood collected from the siblings of that person can often be used to combat the disorder. 

Public Cord Blood Banks

A public cord blood bank follows government regulations to protect the public from harm by maintaining certain set standards. The banks follow a wide range of regulations such as state laws and regulations in combination with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. If a collected unit or sample of cord blood does not meet the set standards, it is usually used for research or discarded. 

Public cord blood banks allow individuals to obtain cord blood for uses such as stem cell transplants. Cord blood units collected and provided to a public cord blood bank are usually placed on a registry to more easily be matched with patients in need. 

Where is Cord Blood Stored?

Cord blood is stored in a public or private cord blood bank with cryogenic preservation. 

Some cord blood banks offer the option to preserve both cord blood and cord tissue to collect different types of cells. If possible, saving both the cord blood and cord tissue can help collect more cells for future use.

Private cord blood banks allow direct family members and approved individuals to access personally stored cord blood. In contrast, public cord blood banks collect donations of blood usually at no cost to the donor. The collections at a public bank are then accessible to members of the public on an as-needed basis for allogeneic transplants. 

Private cord blood banks: Private cord blood banks allow people to save their child’s cord blood and cord tissue for the future. They can be expensive for the initial setup, and they charge annual fees for cord blood storage. However, the benefits can outweigh the costs for parents with other children who have known illnesses that can be treated using cord blood. This type of banking ensures that a family maintains possession of their cord blood so that it can be used as needed by members of the specific family. The U.S. has over 25 private cord blood banks that families can use. If a family elects to use a private cord bank, then a medical carrier service will retrieve the cord blood from the hospital and transport it to the cord blood bank. The courier service assists in making transport more accessible to a wider range of families and eases the burden felt by new parents by checking off one activity from a new parent’s busy to-do list.

Public cord blood banks: Cord blood donations to public banks are frequently used for research. The banks also help people to obtain access to cord blood for transplants. Individuals donate their baby’s cord blood without charge, which provides other people the ability to receive much-needed treatment. Public cord banks located throughout North America allow more people to access these services. 

Hybrid cord blood banks: Some banks offer public and private services. These banks store your child’s blood for the future and accept cord blood donations for use by the public. Hybrid cord blood banks help people to access cord blood from various areas within the country as well as from the larger international cord blood banking system. Hybrid banks provide improved access to a wider range of available cord blood. 

What is an Autologous Transplant?

An autologous transplant —or stem-cell transplant — occurs when healthy stem cells from your body are used to help improve your bone marrow. Bone marrow can be found within your bones, and it helps to create red and white blood cells. An individual with weakened bone marrow faces life-threatening complications. An autologous transplant helps to address these concerns by placing previously removed stem cells back into your body. 

The process is common for individuals that need cancer treatment such as chemotherapy. People who need chemotherapy will have some healthy stem cells removed and then undergo chemotherapy. Afterward, the healthy stem cells are replaced to help improve their bone marrow. 

An autologous transplant shouldn’t be confused with an allogeneic stem cell transplant. The main difference is that an allogeneic stem cell transplant comes from other people while an autologous stem cell transplant comes from yourself. 

Frequently Asked Questions

When researching cord blood banking, it’s common to have questions along the way. If you intend to give birth, consider the benefits of cord blood banking while speaking with the hospital and cord blood bank to understand the expected process. Ask about possible risks and prices before making a final decision. 

How much does cord blood banking cost?

Private cord blood banking can be expensive. One reason that cord blood banking has high costs is that it’s not usually covered by insurance. However, families with histories of certain illnesses have the possibility of getting a portion of the costs offset by insurance. Costs usually include initial storage fees, which are $1,000 or more, in addition to yearly storage fees. The storage fees range between $200 and $300 annually.

Can the hospital complete the cord blood banking procedure?

Not all hospitals offer cord blood banking procedures. The hospitals that do offer cord blood banking usually do not complete the banking procedure in-house. The hospitals and cord blood banks often work in tandem because the hospitals extract the cord blood from the umbilical cord while cord blood banks store the cord blood. See if the hospital you’ll be using provides the option of a cord blood procedure. It’s common for a courier to transport the cord blood to a specified cord blood banking lab to complete the procedure.