The thought or sight of blood can make many people feel squeamish or faint, but for new parents a conversation about blood cannot always be avoided. The impact of cord blood banking been so large that July has been declared National Cord Blood Awareness Month and 27 states, including Wisconsin, mandate cord blood donation education. This remarkable 30-year-old medical science already has life-altering applications for a variety of illnesses, and ongoing clinical trials continue to explore future possibilities. But why?
Small Cells with Huge Potential
It’s no secret that stem cells are important to medical research and have occupied headlines for decades. There are different types of stem cells found in different parts of the body. The ones residing in umbilical cord blood are called hematopoietic stem cells. They will mature into any one of the different types of blood cells, including red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets. Transplants of these cells have been used to aid cancer treatment by helping replace bone marrow cells that have been killed or damaged in hopes that patients can continue with their chosen therapies.
No Bones About It
These valuable cells can also be taken from peripheral blood or red bone marrow. When retrieving cells from peripheral blood, the donor receives growth factors to help the sought-after cells grow faster and go into the bloodstream, where they will be collected with a catheter. Harvesting bone marrow is considered a surgical procedure and is performed by using a needle to remove bone marrow from the hips. While there have been many successes with these procedures, there are several clear advantages to using cord blood when possible. Not only do cord blood cell transplants have a lower rejection rate than that of bone marrow, but the entire donation process is quick, comfortable, and worry-free for parents and babies. After your baby is born, your care provider draws blood from the umbilical cord, and within the next 48 hours the sample is transported by a medical courier to the cord blood bank. It is then cryogenically frozen and can remain viable for more than 20 years.
Babies often have their umbilical cords clamped and cut within moments of being born, but it’s becoming increasingly mainstream to “delay” clamping for several minutes or until the cord is finished pulsing (three to five minutes) to allow more time for the baby to receive blood from the placenta. If you are concerned about banking or donating because you want to delay clamping, I have fantastic news: They are completely compatible! Each sample only needs a few ounces of blood, and many banks can alternatively accept four to eight inches of cord in some cases.
In a conference call earlier this year, Marion Welch of Cryo-Cell explained to my colleagues and me that she suspects cord tissue banking will become more popular in the near future, and she wants parents to understand that there is not an ultimatum being made between banking and “delayed” clamping.
How to Move Forward
While there have been some benefits to this donation process, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated that cord blood collection is not a routine part of obstetrical care nor should it impede obstetric or neonatal care. Parents who are interested in learning more about private banking or public donation options should discuss this information with their care provider to determine what’s best for their family.