What is cord blood banking?

Cord blood banking is the preservation of blood from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. Blood is removed from the umbilical cord immediately after the birth, and frozen in a special storage facility.

A baby's umbilical cord blood is a valuable source of stem cells, which are similar to those found in bone marrow. These cells are the building blocks that the body uses to create some of the key components of human blood and the immune system. Stem cells contain red blood cells (for carrying oxygen), white blood cells (for fighting infection), and platelets (for clotting blood).

Stem cells are essential for life, so if damage occurs to these cells at some point in life, from either a malignant (cancerous), non-malignant, or genetic disease, a stem cell transplant may be needed for medical treatment.

What are the benefits of cord blood banking?

There are several benefits:

  • Stem cells from the banked cord blood can be used for transplants to treat cancer or genetic diseases.
  • Collection of the cells involves only a simple procedure without risk to mother or child.
  • Once the cells are in storage, they are available quickly and easily if needed for a treatment, without any procedure required (e.g., surgery to obtain bone marrow stem cells, or inducement with medications to obtain peripheral blood stem cells).
  • Stem cells from cord blood are better at tolerating differences between donor and recipient, with minimal graft-versus-host disease (a complication of some transplants in which the grafted cells attack the host).
  • There is less risk of transmitting an infectious disease with cord blood stem cells than with transplantation of bone marrow stem cells.

Should you bank your baby's cord blood?

Use this questionnaire to help you decide:

How to bank cord blood

Expectant parents who want to save their child's cord blood stem cells have 2 options available to them. Based on an informed decision, they can:

  • store the cord blood for their own family usage (a fee is charged for this service); or
  • donate the cord blood to be utilized by the general population (similar to blood donations given to the Canadian Blood Services), free of charge.

The collection of umbilical cord blood cells is a painless, non-invasive, simple procedure that is performed after an uncomplicated delivery. The only test that needs to be done is an analysis of the mother for infectious disease. To do this, an ordinary blood sample is collected from the mother either 30 days before or 48 hours after delivery.

To collect the umbilical blood, the umbilical cord is clamped and separated from the child. Then, when the umbilical cord vein is located, the blood is collected into a suitable container. At no time is the procedure performed if the child or mother is at risk of harm. The collection procedure does not require any change to the routine delivery practice of the physician or midwife.

Then, to maintain long-term viability of the cells, cryopreservation (maintenance of the cells at ultra low temperatures) must be carried out within 48 hours of delivery of the cells to the storage facility. This means that arrangements for collection of the cord blood sample must be made prior to delivery.

What happens if the cord blood is needed for a transplant?

If a cord blood sample is needed for a transplant, a special transport container called a "dry shipper" is used to ship the frozen sample to the transplant center. The dry shipper is filled with liquid nitrogen to maintain the cord blood stem cells at less than -150°C during transport. Thawing of the sample must be performed under strict guidelines to ensure the highest viability of stem cells recovered after the thaw.

Lifebank Cryogenics Corp. in association with the MediResource Clinical Team