Health

Labor & Delivery | The ABCs of Cord Blood Banking

In this age of product recycling, it is exciting news that we now have the opportunity to recycle life-saving blood cells that have routinely been discarded with the placenta after childbirth. The ultimate in biological recycling is umbilical cord blood collection.

Last year, 600 children died of Leukemia. Ten to 15 thousand Americans each year are unable to find suitable bone marrow donors. No longer must donors undergo painful procedures to pass on this gift of life. Umbilical cord blood collection and banking can make the difference in life or death for those awaiting stem cell transplants.

This exciting technology was first tested in 1988 in the country of France when a young boy with Fanconi’s anemia was treated using an umbilical cord stem cell transplant. His treatment was successful, thus the beginning of a new life for himself and for umbilical cord blood technology.

Hundreds of babies are born each day, their life-sustaining placenta and an umbilical cord disposed of at birth. Within this lifeline of tissue lies the immature stem cells of which at maturation become whatever type of blood cell the body requires. These “stem” cells are the same cells found in bone marrow, but a simple, painless and risk-free procedure makes obtaining them from the umbilical cord much easier.

Procedure

The procedure to obtain these cells begins after the cord is clamped and cut and the new parents are admiring their beautiful baby. In a simple two- to the five-minute procedure using a syringe containing blood thinner, the physician or nurse accesses the umbilical vein, drawing a blood sample rich in stem cells. With only minor adjustments, the collection may be done in either vaginal or Cesarean deliveries. In a special shipping kit, approximately 3 to 4 ounces of blood are sent to the storage laboratory within 24 hours by a designated family member. There, under strict laboratory conditions, the specimens are tested, prepared and cryogenically frozen at -400 degrees using state-of-the-art procedures for optimal cell preservation. Testing to date reveals samples that appear in the same condition whether it be one week or 15 years. Scientists believe these specimens stored by this process will be viable for more than 50 years. Specimens as old as eight years have been used for transplant successfully.