Doctors have a new appreciation for the umbilical cord, and so should you. Previously, umbilical cords were discarded soon after baby was born, but today blood from the umbilical cord can be collected after your baby’s birth and donated to a cord bank to help someone with a life threatening disease.
While most people are not familiar with this option, it is something every pregnant mom should consider.
Throwing away the cord is what has been done throughout the years and is still done today. However, storing and donating this blood can save the lives of family members or even your own baby in the future — should illness strike.
Cord blood contains stem cells which form part of the basic building blocks of the immune system. Research has found that these cells can treat more than 70 blood related diseases through regenerative medicinal practice. There are some hefty costs to consider — especially if you wish to bank privately. However the costs of searching for a donor worldwide will cost more in the long run.
What Are Stem Cells
These are cells that can be made into a specific type of cell e.g. skin, muscle or bone etc. They have the ability to repair or replace missing tissue in our bodies.
There are two main sources of stem cells. They are the embryo – source of cord blood and the adult tissue. The embryonic stem cells can be grown into a large number of cells unlike the adult tissue, but progress is being made to advance this technology for both sources.
How to Store/Donate Cord Blood
It is vital to do some research of your own to help you decide. At the current moment more than 200 000 units of cord blood are stored in banks worldwide.
Once you have decided to donate, you need to choose a reputable bank and sign up. Public banking is free while family banking has some costs attached to it. Costs can be anything between R12 000 and R20 000. There are some international organisations which store “for free” but there is a small payable fee.
The public bank is one that is for usage by all, meaning that the blood can be donated to others who need it. However, in a public bank, there are no guarantees that the blood will be available for usage when you or a family member may need it. The family cord blood bank saves the stem cells for family members only. It has also been discovered that the chances of transplant success are higher in family members than with a stranger. There is also a 75% chance that it will be an acceptable match for your baby’s siblings.
Once you have signed up you will receive a kit for safe keeping until your due date. It should be packed safely in the baby bag with all the essentials for your hospital stay. The kit contains all the equipment needed for the collection of the blood. After birth, the umbilical cord will be cut, as usual, and then the blood will be collected by vertical hanging for a few minutes so that the blood can be drained into the bag or sterile cup.
The placenta in some cases is also used to derive stem cells by special processing. Deriving blood from both can be beneficial, as the greater the cells, the higher the success in a transplant procedure. After collection, the bag will be labelled with baby’s information. Then it will be sent off to be frozen, processed and then stored for the future.
What Conditions Can Cord Blood Treat?
- Brain Disease – Stem cells are able to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson. These are usually conditions that appear with old age. Parkinson’s disease is both a chronic and progressive disease. There is some research conducted which shows a progressive change in some patients with these diseases and children with Cerebral Palsy.
- Burn Victims – Even though your children may not fall ill and are super healthy, accidents can happen at any time. Each day a child or adult gets terribly burnt. The cord blood can help to engineer new skin tissue regrowth that can be grafted. Which means minimum plastic surgery will be needed.
- Blood Disease – The cells are able to produce all blood types e.g. red blood cells which carry the oxygen or white blood cells which fight diseases. Stem cells are able to repair any damage to the immune system or heart tissues. It has also been useful in bone marrow disease transplants.
- Cancers – Cord blood can treat all types of leukemia such as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Burkitt’s lymphoma. Research is still being carried out on finding a lung cancer cure. This could be a big break through since lung cancer kills more people each year than any other type of cancer.
Stem cells could potentially be used to grow a particular type of tissue or organ if directed to do so in a certain way.
Even though there are no guarantees, for families with a history of diseases such as cancer or diabetes this option can be a great life saver. Alternatively, donating to a stranger could be a good option as well. It is better to have it and not need it than the other way around.
In South Africa there are only about 3 commercial storage units. It is possible to store internationally if you prefer a certain bank. Nonetheless local storage is better for easy access during emergencies and lower in costs. Remember that any malpractice can be reported to authorities and your stem cells cannot be tampered with for research without your consent.
Storage facilities in South Africa (fee based):
Telephone: +27 (0) 11 697 2900
Telephone: +27 (0) 87 8080 170