cord banking, transplant, leukaemia, umbilical cord, blood bank, stem cells

When a woman’s baby is delivered and they are holding their precious bundle in their arms, the umbilical cord and placenta are normally discarded as medical waste.  But what a lot of people don’t realise is that the umbilical cord blood is a rich source of blood stem cells which could potentially save someone’s life in the future, including their own child.

Our bodies use stem cells to maintain healthy tissue and repair damaged tissue so when cord blood is used in a transplant on a sick patient it’s effectively restoring that person’s ability to produce healthy blood cells.  Diseases including leukaemia, lymphoma and immune system disorders can be successfully treated with cord blood stem cells. 

What is the process?

Extracting the blood from the umbilical cord and placenta is a harmless procedure which takes place immediately after the birth of the baby.  Once the collection has taken place the blood is transported to a laboratory where it is tested to ensure it meets the transplant standards.  If it does it will be kept in storage indefinitely at temperatures of below -150 degrees Celsius, waiting to be thawed and used in the future if necessary.  If the blood doesn’t pass the test it can sometimes be used for medical research if you have given permission.

Why have cord blood banked privately?

Many parents make the decision to bank their baby’s cord blood as an insurance policy for the future even though the chances of their child ever needing their own cord blood is very low.  But if a child does develop a condition that requires a stem cell transplant then their cord blood is readily available and a perfect match.

What if we don’t bank the cord blood?

If someone develops a serious condition that requires a stem cell transplant but doesn’t have cord blood stored privately they can still access blood from a public bank which can be just as beneficial.  The only problem being, the blood from an unrelated donor may be a partial mismatch and normally the outcome of the transplant is better if the donor blood is matched perfectly with the patient’s.

How much does it cost?

Despite the advantages of cord blood banking, it does come with a price tag.  It can cost upwards of $4000 to keep the stem cells in storage for up to twenty five years.

What if we don’t want to pay that much?

Some parents decide against banking their baby’s cord blood privately, instead opting to donate it to a public bank.  This is a free service and an amazing gift which could potentially provide lifesaving treatment for a child or adult in the future.  Bear in mind that if you donate to a public bank there is no guarantee that you could get the blood back if you needed to use it in the future.

Umbilical cord banking is now becoming more popular in Australia and with a number of organisations offering the service to new parents, it’s just one more thing to think about while you are pregnant.  Although it does seem like an expensive insurance policy, can you really put a price on the health and wellbeing of your children?  And if your child did ever develop a disease that could be treated with a stem cell transplant, would you kick yourself for not storing the cord blood when you had a chance to?

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By Karyn Miller