Cord Blood Banking: Donating Umbilical Cord Blood

For a newborn baby, umbilical cord blood banking is rightly called a biological insurance. In fact, it is an advancement of medical science that has helped in future treatment of certain life-threatening diseases. Let's look into the details about cord blood banking and how to donate it.
WellnessKeen Staff
Umbilical cord is a flexible, cord like structure that connects the developing fetus or embryo with the placenta. It consists of one vein and two umbilical arteries; the umbilical vein is responsible for providing oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood to the developing fetus, while the umbilical arteries remove the deoxygenated, nutrient-depleted blood. An umbilical cord is about 50 cm long and has a diameter of about 2 cm.

Umbilical Cord Blood

It is a general procedure to cut the umbilical cord after a baby is born. However, some amount of blood still remains in the placental blood vessels, which are attached to the umbilical cord. This blood is called the umbilical cord blood, placental blood, or simply cord blood. As per estimation, about 180 ml of cord blood can be obtained at the time of childbirth.

The uniqueness of placental blood is that it contains all the basic elements of blood such as red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), blood platelets, and plasma. In addition, it contains blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells similar to the ones that are found in the bone marrow. These stem cells have the potential to develop into any other type of body cells. Because of this important property of hematopoietic stem cells, cord blood is used for transplantation as an alternative to bone marrow.

What is Cord Blood Banking?

At present, umbilical cord blood storage is preceded for treatment of certain high-risk illnesses. But, tests for infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, and certain others are done prior to storing cord blood. In both vaginal and cesarean deliveries, collection of placental blood is done shortly after birth. As expected, the amount of cord blood obtained in case of a caesarian delivery is relatively lesser than that of a normal delivery.

The procedure of collecting cord blood is carried out by a qualified midwife or a physician. Immediately after delivery of a baby, both sides of the umbilical cord are clamped and cut. After cutting, one side of the cord is unclamped and a tube is inserted in the umbilical vein to collect blood. Besides this, placental blood is collected from the side of placenta (where the embryo is connected) and the large blood vessels that reach the fetus.

Usually, the whole procedure takes less than 10 minutes and about 75 ml of cord blood is used for storing. The collected blood filled in bags is then sent to the cord-blood bank for future use. One can get it stored in private or public cord blood bank. Private or family cord-blood banks store umbilical cord blood for future use to treat diseases within the family, whereas public banks store the same for the benefit of other people. Majority of the private banks charge an amount of USD 2000 for preserving the cord blood.

Every cord blood bag will be assigned with an identification number. Some of the cord-blood banks separate out the red blood cells, whereas some prefer to retain them. In both the methods, the cord blood is processed and cryopreserved, i.e., a cryopreservant is added to the cord blood and is slowly cooled down to -90 Celsius. Then, it is transferred to a liquid nitrogen tank having temperature -196 Celsius. This way, the cells are kept alive and stored in a deep-freezing state.

How to Donate Umbilical Cord Blood?

Earlier after childbirth, the umbilical cord was thrown away as it is no longer needed for the baby. Now, instead of throwing away as a waste, it can be donated for public use. It is noteworthy that donating cord blood neither affects the mother nor the child. A healthy woman (18 years and older) who had a normal pregnancy and delivery can donate her child's umbilical cord blood in public cord-blood banks. This can be used later for saving someone with a life-threatening disease or it can be used for research studies.

In case, a woman has decided to donate cord blood, she needs to talk to the concerned physician and contact public cord-blood banks. If the concerned hospital has facilities for collecting public cord blood, then the public cord-blood bank will confirm whether she can donate or not, based on the result of the blood test. If the result is negative for infectious diseases, the concerned bank will give a consent letter in which the mother has to sign. For positive cases, further procedure of collecting and preserving cord blood is done and the cord blood is stored for public use.

As far as application of placental blood is concerned, it is mostly used to treat diseases related to blood and immune system and genetic metabolic diseases. Studies have found out that umbilical cord blood transplants can treat more than 70 different diseases. Some of the diseases that are treated by using cord blood include leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, osteopetrosis, (genetic disorder of increase bone density), and Krabbe disease (genetic brain disease). Parents who have had a medical history of major hereditary illnesses or bone marrow transplant can benefit from cord-blood banking for their children.