In honour of Cord Blood Awareness Month this month, let’s find out what cord blood is and why it matters.
Cord blood and tissue come from the placenta and the baby’s umbilical cord. Cord blood is collected after the birth of a baby, once the umbilical cord has been cut. This makes it a safe and painless procedure for both mother and baby. Cord blood banking and storage (via cryopreservation) can help preserve the cord blood cells for potential use in treating a number of medical diseases.
Cord blood is full of immature stem cells that can be used to generate blood cells. This makes cord blood useful in treating more than 80 different diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, aplastic anemia, sickle cell disease, and many others. In patients with blood cancers, chemotherapy destroys both cancer cells and healthy blood cells. Cord blood stem cell transplants can help these patients regrow blood-forming cells and help them recover and restore healthy blood cells after chemotherapy.
There are three main advantages of using cord blood:
- There is less wait time for patients searching for a stem cell donor. Once the cord blood is collected, tested, and stored, it is ready and available for patient use.
- There’s a higher chance of finding a donor match to patients. Patients must do tissue typing tests to match their blood proteins (HLA markers) to potential donors before getting a transplant. Cord blood matching is more forgiving because the cord blood stem cells are immature compared to adult stem cells, whereas adult donors must be a perfect or near-perfect match for the best outcomes. For this reason, cord blood is easier to match with patients.
- Patients are less likely to develop complications from cord blood stem cells compared to adult stem cells because cord blood stem cells are immature.
There is ongoing research focusing on improving the standards and procedures surrounding cord blood collection and storage. The goal is to determine the ideal process transplant centres can follow when preparing cord blood stem cell transplants in patients.
Cord blood donations are becoming increasingly important because of their life-saving potential in treating a variety of diseases and disorders. In Canada and the United States, cord blood is regulated to ensure the products are safe and effective to use. Since cord blood must be collected at birth, it’s important that expectant parents are provided the appropriate information, so they can make an informed decision regarding cord blood donation and banking. Instead of being discarded as medical waste, cord blood can be used to save a life.
Written by Maggie Leung, PharmD
Ryan, J. (2017, July 12). Cord blood matters – take time to learn more. Retrieved from https://www.blood.ca/en/research/our-research-stories/research-education-discovery/cord-blood-matters-take-time-learn-more
Cord Blood Awareness Month. (2016, July 28). Retrieved from https://cellsforlife.com/cord-blood-awareness-month/
Cord Blood: What You Need to Know. (2014, July 30). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/cord-blood-what-you-need-know#top