Cord blood

Cord blood is the blood from the baby that is left in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. It contains special cells called hematopoietic stem cells that can be used to treat some types of diseases. 

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Cord blood is used the same way that hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is used to reconstitute bone marrow following radiation treatment for various blood cancers, and for various forms of anemia. Its efficacy is similar as well.

What are the advantages of cord blood?

Cord blood offers a number of advantages to donors and transplant recipients. It is easy to collect, often more likely to provide a suitable match and is stored frozen, ready to use.

1. Cord blood collection is easy and poses no medical risk to the mother or newborn baby.
Cord blood collection is a safe, simple procedure. The New York Blood Center's National Cord Blood Program staff collects cord blood from the delivered placenta, in a way that does not interfere with the care of the mother or newborn baby. Collection, therefore, poses no risk to mother or baby.

2. Cord blood is collected in advance, tested and stored frozen, ready to use.
Cord blood is donated in advance for anyone who might need it in the future. All routine testing is completed and the unit is stored frozen, ready to use. If a match is found, it can be reserved immediately. Confirmatory HLA typing and any special testing required is usually completed within 5 days. Unlike bone marrow, there is no need to take time to locate a possible volunteer and then determine whether he or she is still willing and able to donate.

3. Cord blood transplants do not require a perfect match.
Studies have shown that cord blood transplants can be performed in cases that the donor and the recipient are partially matched. In contrast, bone marrow grafts require 8/8 matching in most cases.

Because partially matched cord blood transplants can be performed, cord blood increases the patient’s chance to find a suitable donor. With cord blood, a relatively small donor pool can effectively support most patients' needs. We have estimated, for example, that a national inventory of 150,000 cord blood units would provide acceptable matches for at least 80-90% of United States patients. 

4. Cord blood transplants are associated with lower incidence of GvHD.
The immune cells in cord blood seem to be less likely than those in bone marrow from unrelated donors to attack the patient's own tissues (graft vs. host disease).

5. Cord Blood Transplants are associated with lower risk of viral infections.
Cord blood is also less likely to transmit certain common viruses, like Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV), potentially lethal infections for transplant recipients.

Right after the birth of your baby, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut. If cord blood is to be drawn, another clamp is placed 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 centimeters) away from the first. The section between the clamps is cut and a blood sample is collected into a specimen tube.

Using the stem cells in cord blood to treat a disease has the following benefits compared with using those in bone marrow:

  • Stem cells from cord blood can be given to more people than those from bone marrow. More matches are possible when a cord blood transplant is used than when a bone marrow transplant is used. In addition, the stem cells in cord blood are less likely to cause rejection than those in bone marrow.
  • It is harder to collect bone marrow than it is to collect cord blood. Collecting bone marrow poses some risks and can be painful for the donor.
  • Cord blood can be frozen and stored. It is ready for anyone who needs it. Bone marrow must be used soon after it is collected.
  • Stem cells in cord blood can be used to strengthen the immune system during cancer treatments. Bone marrow stem cells do not have this capability.

A disadvantage of cord blood is that it does not contain many stem cells. Units from several donors can be combined to increase the number of stem cells if a transplant is needed for an adult.

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