Cord Blood Awareness Month

Have you heard about the trend of storing cord blood after you have a baby? The premise is that one day it could help your child or someone else should they need stem cells to fight a disease. These unique cells have the ability to heal or even cure a disease. To raise awareness of the benefits of stem cells that are contained in cord blood,  this month has been designated as National Cord Blood Awareness Month.

After a baby is born, the umbilical cord is typically just treated as medical waste and thrown away. As a matter of fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, of the 4 million births every year, 90% of the stem cells that are contained in cord blood are discarded. 

Instead of throwing it all away, blood left in the umbilical cord can be collected and the stem cells extracted and stored for potential use later. According to ViaCord, there are nearly 80 conditions that can be treated with cord blood. These conditions include lymphomas, leukemia, certain types of cancers, osteoporosis, anemias, blood disorders, and immune disorders. In the past couple of years, researchers have been studying the effects of treating autism, cerebral palsy and type 1 diabetes with stem cells. However, cord blood is only approved for blood-related illnesses.

Stem cells from cord blood can be saved for your own child in a private bank or be donated to a cord blood bank. Your child may be able to use his or her own cord blood in the treatment of certain non-genetic diseases and cancers.Clinical trials for conditions including neuroblastoma, autism, and cerebral palsy may require children to have access to their own cord blood. Siblings and other family members can also benefit from your child’s cord blood as they are about twice as successful as treatment with cord blood from a non-relative. For example, possible uses include blood disorders, cancers, and bone marrow failure syndromes.

In some cases, stored blood cells may not be suitable for use in the child who donated it because of genetic defects with the cord blood that contains the same disease. This is the benefit of donating to a public cord blood bank. If needed, donated cord blood can be used for certain cancers, blood disorders, bone marrow failure syndrome, metabolic disorders and immune disorders.

In many cancer patients, chemotherapy treatment kills both cancer cells and the healthy blood-forming stem cells. Transplanted stem cells from donor cord blood can help regrow the healthy blood cells after the chemotherapy. Most transplant physicians would not want to use a baby’s own cord blood to treat his or her leukemia. This is because donor stem cells might better fight the leukemia than the child’s own stem cells. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement (Pediatrics; 2007;119:165-170.) addresses public and private banking options available to parents. Among several recommendations, the report encourages parents to donate to public cord blood banks and discourages parents from using private cord blood banks for personal or family cord blood storage unless they have an older child with a condition that could benefit from transplantation.

Talk to your OB/GYN and pediatrician about the benefits of storing and/or donating cord blood. It could save a life!

Sources: FDA, ViaCord