Among the many considerations you’ll run into during pregnancy care is choosing whether to donate umbilical cord blood after your baby is born. This blood, unlike blood given at a blood drive, for instance, is unique in that it contains special cells that can help with certain disorders. Collecting and donating cord blood is a choice you make with your OB-GYN prior to giving birth, and it may have a significant impact over the course of a loved one’s or even stranger’s life.
Umbilical cord blood is the blood left in the placenta and umbilical cord after birth. It’s unique in that it contains hematopoietic stem cells, which are cells that can develop into different types of blood cells in the body. This is valuable because most fully formed cells in the body can only make more of themselves: for instance, a skin cell can only make another skin cell. For certain diseases, including some cancers, hematopoietic stem cells are a vital part of treatment because they can grow into and replace the cell type that the body is deficient in.
Cord blood is harvested almost immediately after birth, being placed in a specially designed storage bag and given to either a public or private cord blood bank. From there, it is stored in deep freeze by the blood bank until it might be needed by anyone who matches with the blood type and is struggling from any one of the numerous disease conditions that cord blood cells may be able to treat.
The stem cells found in umbilical cord blood are also found in bone marrow, but cord blood provides unique advantages over bone marrow. First, it’s more easily collected, as harvesting bone marrow has more risks and can be painful. Second, cord blood can be frozen and stored for a long time, whereas bone marrow needs to be used shortly after it’s collected. Plus, cord blood more easily matches with patients as compared to using bone marrow as a transplant source. . This means there’s a lower chance of rejection by the recipient of the donor stem cells.
There are two types of cord blood transplant. The first is autologous, where the blood is given back to the baby after birth for the treatment of non-genetic diseases and cancers that may develop later in life like neuroblastoma. Currently, research is also ongoing to determine whether autologous cord blood transplants can be an effective treatment for conditions like autism and cerebral palsy.
Cord blood transplants can also be allogenic, meaning used for someone else like a family member or other matching person for the treatment of certain blood disorders, cancers or bone marrow failure syndromes. Allogenic cord blood transplants are most often used in children, although adults can benefit from multiple units of cord blood in some circumstances. Allogenic transplants can include recipients who are related to the donor or not. If there isn’t a pre-determined recipient, cord blood can be banked for future use by anyone who is a good match with the blood type.
There are several steps that take place when you decide to donate cord blood after birth. First, the blood bank you select will be notified and they will send a collection kit in advance of the delivery date. Your OB-GYN will take your family medical history and check your blood, as well as the cord blood when harvested. Finally, prior to going into labor, the medical staff will ask for a final consent to harvest the cord blood.
Umbilical cord blood is a highly useful substance that can make a huge difference in the life of someone suffering from an immune disease, genetic disorder, and even cancer. It has many advantages over other stem cell collection methods and does not require a separate procedure for either the mother or child. If you’d like to discuss your ability to donate umbilical cord blood, talk to your OB-GYN today to find out if you’re eligible and whether it’s right for you.
Maternal Fetal Medicine blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!