Storing Cord Blood: the Pros and Cons

Cord Blood Banking is becoming more and more popular with new parents, and as technology advances, so too does the number of people opting to bank their child’s cord blood – but there are pros and cons to both sides of the issue.

Here, we distill some of the facts around storing cord blood.

What is cord blood?

Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta after the birth of a baby. This blood is rich in stem cells and other unique cells, similar to those found in bone marrow. These stem cells are immature cells that can reproduce themselves and potentially convert into other types of cells. The particular cells in cord blood and bone marrow are called hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs).

What is cord blood banking?

Cord blood banking is the process of collecting and storing cord blood for potential future use, should your child or someone in your family become ill. The collection process is quick and painless for both mother and baby, and is performed by a trained collector, obstetrician or midwife. The cord blood is stored in optimum conditions, which ensure safe long-term preservation.

The only time cord blood (and related tissue stems cells) can be collected is at birth.

Why are people doing it?

Stored cord blood is currently being used in stem cell transfusions in place of bone marrow transplants for many life threatening conditions, such as blood cancers (e.g. leukaemia), immune system and metabolic disorders.

Many parents view banking their child’s cord blood as a type of insurance, if their child gets sick in the future. Cord blood has been used in over 30,000 transplants in the treatment of more than 80 different conditions. Further research is being conducted into the impact of cord blood to treat conditions such as autism, type 1 diabetes, stroke, heart failure, spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s, cerebral palsy and congenital hearing loss.

What Are the Pros?

The major advantage to storing your child’s cord blood is the ‘perfect match’ – no other source of stem cells can provide this guarantee.

  • Your baby’s umbilical cord stem cells are a perfect match for your child.
  • The closer the match, the greater the likelihood of the body accepting the transplant.

Other advantages include:

  • Use by other family members – cord blood is likely to be a match for siblings and family members, so increasing its likelihood of use.
  • Collection is simple and non-invasive – collection and storage is straight-forward and painless for both mother and baby.
  • Once the cord blood is stored, it is available at any time from collection, for treatment.
  • There is no need to undergo the difficult process of locating a compatible donor if a stem cell transplant is required.
  • Avoids the invasive procedures that are required harvest bone marrow.
  • Cord blood storage has no moral or ethical dilemma attached to it: compared to embryonic stem cells, there is no destruction of embryos required to harvest these cells.

Future uses

Current research is investigating how cord blood cells may provide new therapies for many other chronic diseases, including cerebral palsy, autism, type 1 diabetes and paediatric stroke.

What Are the Cons?

  • The most obvious issue is the cost – it can be between $3000 and $4000 to store your baby’s cord blood; however, payment plans are available to make this more affordable.
  • Whilst the cord blood can be used for other family members, there is only a 25 percent chance that they will be a full match for their sibling. Depending on the illness diagnosed, the stem cells may contain the rogue cells that caused the condition (if it is a genetic disorder).
  • The probability that the child will need the cord blood is very low. Thankfully, the incidence of severe conditions such as leukaemia are relatively rare. However, if research and clinical trials demonstrate uses in conditions such as type 1 diabetes or cerebral palsy, the likelihood of use could increase.

Another trend that is generating much discussion is the delayed cord clamping option. It has been argued that you must choose one or the other. But this is not necessarily the case.

The organisation that collects the cord blood will have their own set of guidelines around how quickly the cord blood needs to be collected, but having to decide between one or the other is not necessarily required. Your cord blood storage provider will be able to provide you with more information around this issue.

New parents often feel vulnerable when they are anticipating the birth of a child and will try to do whatever they can to protect their child. The key to making this decision is to ensure you are informed and that you understand all the details so you can make a decision that is right for you and your family.

If you are considering the storage of your baby’s cord blood, you should ensure you have thoroughly researched the topic, so you can make an informed decision. Your decision needs to be made prior to the birth of your child as this is the only opportunity to collect and store your baby’s stem cells.

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