Giving birth

Cord blood banking

What are the benefits of banking your baby's cord blood?

By Kiera Newman
Cord blood banking

Banking your baby’s cord blood at birth could mean he’ll have a treatment for certain serious illnesses in the future. But if you don’t think the cost is worth the slight chance he’ll need a withdrawal, public banking or donating your baby’s cord blood for research are other options.

What is cord blood?
Cord blood is the blood left in the umbilical cord after a baby is delivered. It’s special because it contains undeveloped stem cells, the precursors to all other types of cells in the body. For many years, stem cells from bone marrow and, more recently, from umbilical cord blood have been used as transplants to supply healthy cells to patients with cancer and other illnesses. Research suggests that stem cells found in cord blood are exceptionally malleable and may have the potential to treat many more diseases and injuries in the future.

Who benefits from cord blood banking?
The odds that your child will use her banked sample are extremely small, although somewhat higher if there’s a family history of a condition that can be treated with a stem cell transplant, such as leukemia, lymphoma, anemia, some inherited diseases and immune system disorders. Should your child develop one of these illnesses, there will be a perfectly matched source of stem cells available for treatment. And sometimes stored cord blood from one family member can be used to treat a relative.

Like bone marrow databases, public cord blood banks are being stocked with stem cells that are accessible to everyone to increase the odds a match will be found for patients in need.

How is cord blood collected?
The procedure is painless for both mother and baby. Cord blood is collected within 15 minutes of delivery, by inserting a needle into the umbilical cord after it’s clamped, and withdrawing 35 to 40 millilitres of blood. The cord blood, along with a maternal blood sample, will be screened for sufficient stem cell count and certain illnesses at the blood bank’s lab. If analysis shows the sample is OK, it’s frozen until needed.

What are my banking options and costs?
The major drawback to banking cord blood in a private bank is the cost. You’ll pay close to $1,000 for analysis and processing and about $100 a year for storage. Your doctor or midwife may be able to recommend a private bank, or you can search online.

There are two Canadian public banks: Alberta Cord Blood Bank, (780) 492-2673, accepts donations from anywhere in Canada. Héma-Québec, 1-800-565-6635, accepts donations from births at hospitals nearby. Donating cord blood to a public bank is free. You may also be able to donate your cord blood for research purposes through Insception Biosciences, 1-866-606-2790.

This article was originally published on Jul 19, 2006

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