There are so many decisions parents have to make after their baby is born. Will you breastfeed or do formula? Will you give the baby a pacifier? Will you let family members hold the baby? And on the medical side of decision making, will you do newborn screening, vaccinate, and allow other medical treatments if needed after the baby is born? In addition to all of these important decisions is also the option of cord blood banking. Often people will ask, what is cord blood banking and why should parents do it?
When a fetus is in the womb, the nutrients and oxygen that the fetus needs to grow and thrive comes from the umbilical cord. After the baby is born, the placenta and the cord that attaches the placenta to the baby comes out as well. The cord blood is the baby’s blood that is left in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. This blood contains cells that can be used to treat certain types of diseases. To review, our bodies are made up of billions of cells, and inside those cells are our genetic instructions that make up our bodies. The cells that are in the cord blood are called hematopoietic stem cells. This means that these types of cells essentially have a basic set of genetic instructions and can mature into many different types of blood cells. The majority of our cells are already predetermined, meaning they have instructions to mature into a very specific type of cell, such as skin cells, blood cells, lung cells, etc. Hematopoietic stem cells are very important because they are not already predetermined and can mature into a variety of cells.
Hematopoietic stem cells can be used to treat more than 70 types of diseases, including conditions of the immune system, genetic disorders, neurological disorders, and some forms of cancer, like lymphoma and leukemia. There are many advantages to using stem cells from cord blood compared to bone marrow. Stem cells in cord blood are less likely to be rejected by the patient compared to bone marrow. It’s also much more challenging to collect bone marrow compared to cord blood, and cord blood can be frozen and stored, whereas bone marrow has to be used immediately after it is collected. The main disadvantage of using cord blood is that there aren’t many stem cells in cord blood compared to bone marrow. Often units from several donors will need to be combined to increase the number of stem cells for adults.
There are many reasons why parents will consider the option to bank cord blood after birth. Sometimes parents will choose to donate to a public bank at no charge to potentially help others they do not know. Donating to public banks is especially important for ethnic minorities as they are not well represented in cord blood banks. Sometimes if parents already have a child with a disease in which stem cell treatment is necessary, cord blood banking either to a private bank or through directed donation in a public bank is encouraged. Private banks will sometimes store cord blood for a family member with a disease for free, but it’s important to find out the cost of storing cord blood in private banks.
If you have a family history of a genetic condition or potential risk for a genetic condition and would like to understand your options moving forward for yourself and your family, you can meet with a genetic counselor. Genetic counselors can provide information on the genetic condition, treatment options, and clinical trials available. In addition, if you are considering cord blood banking for your baby due to a family member with a disease, a genetic counselor can help you to make sure your baby will be closely enough related to be a match to that family member, or if there’s alternative options.
If you are interested in cord blood banking or have a family history of a genetic condition that can be treated by cord blood and are interested in your options, contact AT-GC to meet with a genetic counselor.
By: Kendra Frome, MS, CGC
Licensed, Certified Genetic Counselor