Authored by Dr Mark Kirkland, stem cell researcher at the Institute of Technology, Research and Innovation at Deakin University and Medical Director at Cell Care
Is cord blood collection a passing fad? Or can storing your baby’s cord blood really help in years to come?
Until fairly recently, a baby’s cord blood - the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta immediately after birth - was always discarded as medical waste. But now, with medical advances showing that cord blood is potentially a very valuable medical asset, more and more parents in Australia and overseas are choosing to store their baby’s cord blood.
You only have one opportunity to collect your baby’s cord blood and that’s at the time of delivery so what’s it all about and what do you need to know?
What is cord blood collection?
Cord blood contains a potent mixture of cells, including stem cells, the ‘building blocks’ of all cells in the body. Cord blood banking is the collection of a baby's cord blood after birth and storing this for potential future use.
What can cord blood be used for?
Stem cells are the pre-cursors to most mature cells in the body and can adapt and develop into specific cell types with the potential to treat many common diseases. Cord blood is well recognised in the treatment of blood disorders including leukaemia and some cancers.
Research is also underway investigating the possible use of cord blood in the emerging field of regenerative medicine - a process of using stem cells to rebuild tissue damaged by illness or accident. Conditions which might be treated by regenerative medicine include type 1 diabetes, brain trauma, spinal injury, and cerebral palsy.
Private and public cord blood banking
In Australia, parents can either choose to store their cord blood privately or donate to the public cord blood bank.
Storing privately means that you retain ownership and control of the cord blood and ensures cells that are a perfect match for your baby are available for your future use. Parents choose to store their baby’s cord blood for a number of reasons, including having a family history of disease, having a baby of an ethnic minority or mixed ethnicity where there may be a greater difficulty finding a matched donor publicly or for future regenerative medicine therapies.
Some people liken private cord blood banking to an ‘insurance policy’ and like to know that these valuable cells are there for their exclusive use in the future.
Parents wanting to store their baby’s cord blood at a private bank can collect at the majority of hospitals across Australia and collection can take place at any time no matter when the delivery occurs.
There is a fee of approximately $3,000 associated with banking privately - this covers collection, processing and 18 years storage for the cord blood. If you can’t afford the lump sum up front then there is also the potential to pay in instalments.
Conversely some parents may choose to donate to the public bank - this is where the cord blood is made available to any patient worldwide who is in need of a cord blood transplant for bone marrow diseases such as leukaemia. Public donation is made available at no cost although it is important to note that only eleven hospitals across NSW, VIC, QLD and NT (there are currently none in SA, WA or TAS) collect cord blood for the public bank and collection can only take place if your baby is delivered during normal working hours. In addition stringent acceptance criteria apply meaning that not all donated samples collected for the public bank are banked.
How does it work?
Collecting cord blood is a simple, safe, and painless procedure that usually takes less than five minutes, immediately after birth.
The cord blood is collected once the baby has been born and the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut. A specially trained collector will drain the blood remaining in the umbilical cord into a special collection bag. The sample is then couriered to a banking facility and where it is processed, frozen and stored at cryogenic temperatures until such time as it is needed.
The cord blood would normally be thrown away with the placenta so collecting it after the umbilical cord has been cut has no effect on you or your baby.
Why bother collecting your baby’s cord blood?
The cells contained in cord blood are incredibly valuable and have the potential to be used in the treatment of numerous diseases so whether you choose to keep your baby’s cord blood by storing privately or donate it to the public bank, just don’t let these valuable cells go to waste.
Where can I find out more information?
For more information, readers can log onto www.cellcareaustralia.com – Australia’s leading cord blood bank.
Alternatively, readers can visit the Australian Blood Marrow Donor Registry www.abmdr.org.au and follow the links to cord blood.