The 411 On Cord Blood Banking

Cord blood banking is increasingly becoming a topic of interest to new parents. Wondering what it's all about? Read this expert Q&A.

From creating the ultimate birth plan to finding the best doula in the area, new parents have so much to do in preparation of their baby's birth. Now the question of whether or not to bank their newborn's cord blood is being added to pre-birth to-do lists.

We interviewed Dr. Rallie McAllister, a family practice physician and coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. Dr. McAllister is working with Cord Blood Registry (CBR) to educate parents about cord blood banking.

Cord blood banking Q&A

Pregnancy & Baby: What is cord blood banking? How is it collected?

Dr. Rallie McAllister: Cord blood is a rich source of stem cells, which are considered to be powerful, master cells of the human body. Cord blood banking is the process of collecting a baby’s cord blood from the umbilical cord in the moments following birth. The procedure is painless and poses no risk to mother and child, regardless of vaginal birth or C-section. After the baby’s birth, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut in the usual manner and the blood is collected from the end of the cord that is attached to the placenta. The collection is placed into a sterile collection bag and delivered to the laboratory at a cord blood bank, where it is processed, labeled with an identifying number and frozen in liquid nitrogen. Theoretically, the stem cells can last indefinitely if stored properly.

Expectant parents have two options for the collection and storage of their child’s umbilical cord blood: storing privately with a family bank or donating to a public bank. Family banking offers parents storage of cord blood stem cells for the family's exclusive access. When parents elect to donate to a public cord blood bank, their baby’s cord blood is available to any patient who needs a transplant. The unit is not reserved for your family. Currently only a select number of hospitals are able to collect umbilical cord blood for storage in public cord blood banks. Unless you choose one of these options, the umbilical cord and placenta are generally discarded after the baby is born.

P&B: What are some of the ways cord blood cells are currently being used?

Dr. McAllister: Today cord blood stem cells are used to treat 80 different diseases, including leukemia, other cancers, blood disorders, metabolic disorders, and immune diseases.

Cord blood stem cells and tissue are also fueling research in regenerative medicine, which is the process of infusing an individual’s own stem cells to repair damaged or diseased tissue or organs. Once in the body, stems cells can trigger natural repair processes by reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to injured or diseased areas. Additionally, stem cells can stimulate the growth of new blood vessels and other tissues.

The evolution of stem cell therapies has paved the way for innovative research to uncover their potential treatment options for conditions that currently have no cure. Cord Blood Registry® is the only newborn stem cell bank to pioneer FDA-regulated clinical trials, evaluating newborn stem cells to treat conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and pediatric stroke. You can read more about CBR®’s clinical trials here.

P&B: Why should expectant moms consider banking their newborn's umbilical cord blood cells?

Dr. McAllister:One of the most critical decisions that new parents face is whether to collect and save their baby’s umbilical cord blood. They’ll only have one opportunity to do it: in the moments following their baby’s birth. Parents should be informed about cord blood banking options, so they can make the best decision for their child and their family.

It is estimated that 1 in 3 people in the US may benefit from a regenerative therapy in their lifetime, and emerging research suggests that stem cells from cord blood have advantages over other stem cell sources in regenerative medicine applications. I predict that in the next decade or two that when patients go to the hospital with a heart attack, a knee injury or so on, one of the doctor’s first questions will be: “Did your parents bank your cord blood?”

P&B: What are the costs involved with cord blood banking?

Dr. McAllister: Donation to public banks is free; however, the cord blood unit is not reserved for the exclusive use of the child or the family that provided it. Parents who want to ensure that their baby’s cord blood will be available for their family’s exclusive use can choose to store it with a private cord-blood bank.

I view the cost associated with a private family bank as an investment in your baby’s health. The cost for family banking is a one-time storage fee of about $2,000 to bank a baby’s blood, and a $130 annual storage fee.

P&B: Are there any no-cost family banking options?

Dr. McAllister: CBR’s Newborn Possibilities Program® provides free access to genetically related donor stem cells to those families who have been identified with a medical need to potentially use newborn stem cells now or in the near future. If you would like to learn more about CBR's Newborn Possibilities Program, which offers families free cord blood and tissue collection, shipping, processing, and five years of storage, visit cordblood.com. Some family banks also offer payment plans and gift registries.

P&B: How can parents learn more about the benefits of cord blood banking and decide if it's the right option for their family?

Dr. McAllister: Cord Blood Registry® has created a guide to help parents learn if cord blood banking is right for them. To learn more about cord blood banking, I urge parents to visit cordbankingbasics.com to learn which diseases can be treated with cord blood, and read about the ongoing clinical trials involving cord blood stem cells. If you think cord blood banking is something you’d like to do, it is important to discuss it with your physician, nurse, or midwife. They will help you sort through your options.

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