Cord Blood Banking Basics

Would you do everything in your power to keep your family safe from harm?

If you’re anything like the rest of us, the answer to that question is obvious, as you generally won’t think twice about doing whatever you can to shield your loved ones from life’s dangers. However, one way to help protect your family’s wellbeing may not be quite so clear-cut...

... using your newborn child’s umbilical cord to fight deadly diseases.

As you know, during pregnancy, the umbilical cord is the vital link between mother and baby, providing oxygen, amino acids and nutrients, but its life-giving properties continue long after the child is born.

Despite this, some countries, the UK, for example, simply clamp the umbilical cord and treat the placenta in the same way as general surgical waste.

In other cultures, the placenta is believed to have an emotional or spiritual kinship with the baby, meaning it must be disposed of suitably.

Additionally, some people insist on eating the umbilical cord and placenta – but there’s actually a more methodical route to harvesting the afterbirth’s healing properties.

cord blood diagram

Explore the Science of Cord Blood Banking

For the uninitiated, stem cells can be taken from the blood of an umbilical cord and used to treat a variety of potential diseases, should the need arise in the future.

Thanks to the science of cord blood banking, the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta once your baby is delivered can be used to help cultivate life and provide a stem cell source if a stem cell transplant was ever required.

This is due to the cord blood being a rich source of haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which are the cells responsible for replenishing blood and regenerating the immune system. Typically, cord blood stem cell transplants are used to:
  • Replace and regenerate damaged or diseased bone marrow.
  • Treat blood cancers.
  • Correct genetic defects (sibling/allogeneic transplantation).
Additionally, HSCs have the unique ability to separate into various cell types found in our blood, including:
  • Red blood cells: responsible for transporting oxygen.
  • White blood cells: in charge of producing antibodies and fighting bacteria.
  • Platelets: required to assist blood clotting.
While it may not be your first thought immediately after giving birth, the value of cord blood banking cannot be overlooked, as it offers a potential medical resource for the future.

cord blood stem cells

The Advantages of Collecting Umbilical Cord Blood

Statistics reveal that approximately 3,000 Indonesian children younger than 15 years are diagnosed with leukaemia every year1.

To combat this, cord blood – thanks to its rich source of stem cells – has, since 1988, been used by doctors to treat more than 30,000 patients diagnosed with blood disorders and cancers, such as leukaemia 2.

Thalassemia major and leukaemia, 2 of the most common diseases in Indonesia, are treatable with stem cells. Once missed, stem cells can only be extracted from sources including bone marrow, which is a painful process.

In such a critical situation, having a supply of stem cells on hand is preferable to conducting a national or international search, which can not only be time-consuming, but also incredibly costly.

When compared to other types of stem cells – bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells, for example – the rate of engraftment is considerably higher, which means the cells grow faster and healthier, and they’re more tolerant to tissue mismatches.

Additionally, where the donor and the recipient are the same individual, there’s a lower risk of graft vs. host disease (GvHD), a frequent complication where the transplanted tissue attacks the patient’s own tissue.

Diseases Treated With Cord Blood

More than 80 diseases can be treated with cord blood and that figure is growing rapidly. Thanks to HSC transplantation, there are a variety of diseases which can be treated, covering blood disorders and non-blood related diseases.

Indeed, this procedure can be used to replace and regenerate damaged or diseased bone marrow associated with blood disorders, including:
  • Leukaemia and lymphomas.
  • Myeloma.
  • Severe aplastic anemia.
  • Severe combined immunodeficiency.
  • Hemoglobinopathy and thalassemia.
  • Autoimmune diseases.
Furthermore, HSC transplantation can also be used to treat non-blood related diseases, such as:
  • Neuroblastoma.
  • Ewing's sarcoma.
  • Testicular cancer.
  • Ovarian cancer.
  • DiGeorge syndrome.
  • Metabolic disorders.

Also, research is continuing into cord blood stem cells being used for brain injuries, juvenile diabetes, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cerebral palsy, congenital heart defects, hearing loss, liver disease and spinal cord injury.

How Is Umbilical Cord Blood Collected?

Immediately after your baby is born, your doctor will clamp the cord and remove your baby away from the birthing area. The umbilical cord blood is then collected by inserting a needle into the cord vein, with the blood drained into a blood bag.

This can be done after both types of delivery and the procedure won’t cause you any pain or risk the health of you or your baby, with the collection of the blood only taking around three minutes.

Cord Blood Banking: Success Stories

As if more proof was needed regarding the success of cord blood banking, numerous success stories have appeared in the news over the years.

For example, back in 2004, The Straits Times published a story surrounding the umbilical cord blood used from a newborn baby to treat their three-year-old child who was diagnosed with leukaemia. Fast forward 18 months and, thanks to an infusion of stem cells, the child’s leukaemia was in remission.

Additionally, in 2009, a pioneering procedure took place in Singapore, with stem cells from a baby’s own cord blood used to treat cerebral palsy. After the treatment, the child’s parents noticed changes in her temperament and concentration, also noting that she regained some muscle strength.

While every medical case is unique, the advantages of cord blood banking cannot be denied – which is why it should be a real consideration for Indonesian parents concerned about protecting the future health of the ones they love most.

1Mostert S, Sitaresmi MN, Gundy CM, Veerman S and AJP. Influence of socioeconomic status on childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia treatment in Indonesia. Pediatrics 2006;118;e1600-1606.
2Ballen KK, Gluckman E, Broxmeyer HE. Umbilical cord blood transplantation: The first 25 years and beyond. 2013; Blood: 122(4)