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Cord Blood Banking 101

The basics of saving cord blood and how it can help your family

by Anja Health
2 parents kiss their baby on either cheek.
Saving umbilical cord blood can give you and your family options in the event of future illnesses. Collecting cord blood is a safe and painless process that you can do immediately following birth.

Key Takeaways

  • Umbilical cord blood has many uses to help treat diseases, including certain cancers.
  • Collecting cord blood can be helpful not only for your baby but also may benefit parents and siblings.
  • You can collect cord blood immediately after giving birth. The blood is then frozen and stored until needed.

The umbilical cord is the flexible structure shaped like a tube that connects the baby to the placenta during pregnancy. It is made up of two arteries and one vein. The umbilical cord is the "lifeline" for the baby; it provides oxygen and nutrient-rich blood while extracting waste.

Historically, the umbilical cord blood was considered waste and thrown away at birth. However, in recent years, cord blood has become a common alternative source of stem cells to bone marrow or peripheral blood. Cord blood stem cells show great promise in developing treatments for many diseases and have improved the quality of life for patients living with these conditions.

Types of stem cells in the umbilical cord and placenta

The umbilical cord is rich in stem cells. These are essentially "blank" cells capable of becoming specialized cells with a specific function. Stem cells can regenerate and self-renew, producing more stem cells or becoming specialized cells.

There are several different kinds of stem cells

  • Totipotent stem cells can become any type of adult stem cell
  • Pluripotent stem cells can become any tissue in the body
  • Multipotent stem cells can develop into any cell type within a family of tissues
  • Oligopotent stem cells can form two or more types of cells within the same tissue
  • Unipotent stem cells can only form one type cell 

The placenta and cord blood are rich in hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). The placenta is also rich in mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). These stem cells are multipotent and can develop into any cell type within a family of tissues.

Hematopoietic stem cells have already been used to treat genetic disorders like leukemia, some cancers, and some inherited disorders.

The current data on cord blood stem cells

Stem cells were first discovered in the umbilical cord in 1978, and the first cord blood transplant was completed in 1995. To date, over 40,000 umbilical cord blood transplants have been performed globally to treat malignant (easily spread) and non-malignant diseases. In the next 18 years, an estimated 1 in 16 children may need stem cells to better their quality of life. 

Stem cells are different from typical blood or muscle cells because stem cells can recreate functional tissue and self-replicate. This nature of stem cells helps biomedical research and therapies test drugs, understand disease biology, and provide cell-based therapy treatment and implants.

Cord blood stem cells show great promise in developing treatments for many diseases and have improved the quality of life for many patients.

Recent studies show that stem cells found in cord blood, cord tissue, and placenta tissue can successfully treat over 80 conditions. Some examples include blood disorders, immune system disorders, and inherited metabolic disorders. 

The first FDA-approved cord blood product was only in 2011, so the industry is evolving quickly. Currently, over 1,000 clinical trials are focused on regenerative medicine, making it clear that the frontier of medicine is cell-based.

Public versus private cord blood banking

When banking cord blood, there are public and private banks. Public cord blood banks store donated cord blood and distribute the cord blood stem cells to recipients who are a close match. Donations are anonymously distributed, so recipients do not have donor information. There are cord blood collection requirements, and not every donation will be used. Some donated cord blood is used for research.

Private cord blood banking is a more personal approach that stores cord blood for the baby and close family members. The banked cord blood is for exclusive use by the owner and does not allow access to anonymous recipients and research. There is no guarantee that the banked cord blood will be used, but it may be a match for siblings and parents who may need stem cells for future cell-based treatments.

A gloved hand uses a tool to remove a test tube from its container.

The collection process

Expecting parents must decide what to do with their umbilical cord and placenta during pregnancy. If they decide to publically donate or privately bank their cord blood and/or placenta, the first step is to contact the cord blood bank they'd like to use. 

If banking privately, you'll need a stem cell collection kit to bring with you to birth. The collection process is non-invasive and poses no risk to the baby or birthing person. Shortly after birth, the cord blood, tissue, and/or placenta can easily be collected after the umbilical cord is clamped and cut. A needle is used to draw the cord blood. The blood sample is then deposited into a container and transported to the cord blood bank to be processed. The birthing parent's blood sample is also taken and tested for signs of infectious disease.

How are stem cells stored?

Once the cord blood is processed and determined to be usable, it will be cryopreserved (frozen). Cryopreservation stores material under liquid nitrogen in freezers to ensure the cord blood is secure in an appropriate storage environment. Most stem cell banks freeze your baby's stem cells at around -190 degrees Celsius. Stem cells will remain frozen and ready to be used for applicable treatments when needed.

Cord blood can be stored under liquid nitrogen for over 20 years. There is no reason to believe cell potency is lost over long-term storage under liquid nitrogen. 

How can you access them?

Accessing cord blood stem cells will depend on whether the stems come from a public or private bank. Cord blood banks work with medical establishments where the cord blood will be processed and used for treatment. The medical service provider will provide instructions. The recipient's family may need to file forms required by the cord blood bank.

In the next 18 years, an estimated 1 in 16 children may need stem cells to better their quality of life.

Tests are required to find a suitable match from public cord blood banks. Some banks may require collection, processing, and/or transportation fees. Private cord blood banks may include these expenses in specific packages. For more information, it’s best to contact the cord blood bank of choice.

The cost of stem cell cryostorage

Many private cord blood collection and processing cost between $1,200 to $4,000 (not including storage). Depending on the bank and storage package, annual storage fees can range from $150 to $400. However, there are more cost-effective options available.

It is free to donate cord blood to a public cord blood bank. Public cord banks are often federally funded.

Is cord blood banking right for your family?

Deciding to bank cord blood is a very personal and important decision. Those interested in cord blood banking can take comfort in knowing that donating is a painless process. It can potentially benefit either your family or those in need. Cord blood stem cells have changed and saved lives, paving a promising way in medical treatments of disorders, conditions, and cancers.

Anja Health is on a mission to make private cord blood banking more accessible and more affordable to more families. Use code quilted at checkout to get $100 off your collection kit.

Anja Health

Anja Health is the first affordable stem cell safe that collects and stores umbilical cord and placenta stem cells. They strive to make blood cord banking more accessible & more affordable for all.

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