Umbilical cord blood banking and its medical potential are common topics of discussion among prospective parents. Many parents consider banking their baby’s cord blood, to help in one of two cases: if the child becomes sick, or if a close relative becomes sick. The procedure is easy and painless, and, under some circumstances, banked cells may be utilized for beneficial purposes.

Scientists discovered blood-forming stem cells, also called hematopoietic cells, in cord blood. In the 1970s, scientists also discovered that umbilical cord blood supplied the same types of hematopoietic cells as a bone marrow donor. The hematopoietic cells that scientists discovered in cord blood may treat leukemia, lymphoma, anemias, and some immunodeficiencies. As a result, some parents are choosing to bank these cells after birth, in case their family needs them in the future.

Kits must be ordered before the birth takes place. Therefore, parents will have to discuss their plans with their obstetrician, to guarantee that hematopoietic cells are preserved. The obstetrician will clamp the cord on both sides and cut, collecting stem cells through both the umbilical vein and the large vessels of the placenta. The cells are placed in bags or syringes, and then taken to a banking facility, where they are cryogenically frozen.

Transplants are mostly performed on relatives, or on the patient. An autologous transplant occurs when a patient receives an infusion of their own cells, and an allogeneic transplant occurs when a patient receives cells from a family member or anonymous donor. Autologous transplants cause patients to run the risk of developing the same disease again, while allogeneic transplants are not required to be a genetic match.

Transplants are best performed on young patients. The quantity of hematopoietic cells collected after birth is small, so the transplant will only help children and young adults who weigh 115 pounds or less. Unfortunately, the amount of stem cells collected is insufficient to make a difference for an adult patient.

Patients will pay an up-front cost, plus an annual storage fee. According to doctors, patients have just as much success when they receive stem cells from an unknown donor, as when they receive transplants from a family member. Umbilical stem cells will not help an adult patient, meaning that a significant amount of money may be spent for an unnecessary procedure.

Banking hematopoietic cells is recommended for certain families. Families with members who have a history of certain diseases, which are treatable with bone marrow transplants, are the best candidates for banking. In other instances, families may donate cells to hospital-run banks, which are not plentiful, but are growing in number. The American Red Cross will provide guidance for how best to proceed with donating these valuable cells.

Many parents worry that their children could develop a host of different diseases, which may be life-threatening. In some cases, infused stem cells may provide the same level of treatment as a bone marrow transplant. For these families, umbilical cord blood banking will bring hope, and peace of mind, in difficult times.