by Meredith Weiss
What Is Cord Blood?
Cord blood is the blood from the umbilical cord that supplies nutrients and oxygen to an unborn child. This blood is a non-controversial source of "stem cells," which has the ability to differentiate into any type of blood cell and stimulate new growth throughout the body. Historically, cord blood was discarded as medical waste, but now expectant parents have the option to cryogenically store ("bank") these cells at the time of birth and store them for years until they're needed.
Cord Blood Treatments
Cord blood stem cells are being used in the treatment of over 40 life-threatening diseases. The cells may be a match for siblings (1:4) and parents and are a perfect match for the newborn itself. Many of the current treatments are for disorders that are not carried through family genetic history. Every year more parents are choosing to bank their newborn's stem cells, and scientists are looking to cord blood for treatments of more common diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. While the first cord blood transplant occurred in 1988, almost half of the 6,000 total transplants have occurred in just the past two years.
Advantages of Transplanting with Cord Blood Instead of Bone Marrow:
- Harvesting umbilical cord blood poses no risk to mother or child, whereas a bone marrow donor must undergo anesthesia and is exposed to the risk of infection.
- Umbilical cord blood can be stored in cryogenic freezers, ready for use as soon as it is needed, whereas the process of contacting and testing bone marrow donors listed in a registry takes weeks to months.
- Because the stem cells in cord blood are more primitive than those in bone marrow, they carry much lower incidence of graft versus host disease (GVHD).
- The success rate of transplant with cord blood is significantly higher than transplant with donor bone marrow.
- For parents who stored their baby's cord blood, the cost involved is a minute fraction of what it would otherwise cost to find and obtain donor cells/marrow and related medical expenses of hospitalizations and medication until such a match is found.
Copyright © Meredith Weiss. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.