Cord Blood Retrieval
by Carolyn Amato, RNC
Cord blood retrieval is one of the latest breakthroughs in modern medical research. The umbilical cord contains blood that is very rich in stem cells that may be used instead of a bone marrow transplant. This program allows expectant parents to preserve their baby’s cord blood for the child’s future should the need arise.
What is cord blood?
Cord blood refers to the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and in the placenta after it is separated from the newborn following childbirth. The umbilical cord and placenta (also known as afterbirth) are expelled and usually discarded after childbirth.
The blood found in these organs is rich in a special cell type called stem cells. Stem cells not only generate all the cell types found in blood but they also can be used to treat a variety of life threatening diseases including leukemia, other cancers, blood and immune disorders, and sickle cell anemia.
Why donate cord blood?
Cord blood can be donated for one of two reasons. First, a parent may choose to donate the cord blood for use by the child or a sibling in the event one of those life threatening diseases develops. In this case the cord blood stem cells will be stored, and no one can access these cells except the parent or child at the age of consent. Second, the cord blood can be donated to the community, similar in principle to a routine blood donation. Under these circumstances the cord blood will be released for use by a qualified recipient, identified through a registry.
What are the advantages of saving cord blood?
1. Immediate availability of matching stem cells for your child, eliminating the need to search for a suitable bone marrow donor. 2. Cord blood has a better chance of being used by a sibling of the same parents – considerably higher than a bone marrow match.
3. Increased safety. Cord blood stem transplants have resulted in significantly lower incidence of life threatening side effects that occur in large percentages of bone marrow transplantations.
4. Cord blood stem cells are especially suited for use in gene therapy. Already, through gene therapy, cord blood cells have been used to cure children born with SCIDS, otherwise known as the "bubble boy" disease. Researchers are optimistic about similar treatments for AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
Collection and Storage
The only time cord blood can be collected is immediately following the birth of a baby. In a simple 20 minute procedure, it is collected from the umbilical cord by the attending physician, nurse or technician after the placenta is expelled and after the umbilical cord is cut from the newborn. The procedure does not interfere in any way with the birthing experience. On occasion we are unable to collect sufficient cord blood to extract the stem cells. The blood is then sealed in specially designed packaging for immediate delivery to the Community Blood Services laboratory in Paramus. Once received, the blood is tested, processed and banked. The cells are carefully stored in a cryogenic freezer using state-of-the-art procedures for optimal cell preservation; research indicates these cells could last indefinitely. The cells will be uniquely labeled, and no one can access these cells except the donor or the child at the age of consent.
Editorial provided by Carolyn Amato, RNC, Director of Maternal-Child Health at Holy Name Hospital in New Jersey.