Umbilical cord blood, teeming with potentially life-saving and disease-fighting substances, is more than worth the ten to fifteen minutes it takes to collect in the delivery room, according to an expert on child-birth procedures.

Though reservations about the process exist, one thing is clear: gathering and storing the blood inside the umbilical cord at birth can save the life of a child at a later date.

On the down side, cord blood is expensive to gather and preserve and the amount collected, as little as a few ounces, would only be useful for a limited number of procedures. But advocates say it is a potentially valuable resource.

“It ought to be standard practice to collect the cord blood,” said Dr. Brad Imler, president of the American Pregnancy Association (APA), in a phone interview with the AFRO. “The procedure is easy and there’s no risk to the mother or the baby when the stem cells are collected.”

Cord blood is important because it contains stem cells, specific to the baby and the family, that aid in the construction of bone, body tissue, and every system of vital organs needed for life. The cells are a crucial part of the immune system and can be replicated as other cells throughout the body.

If a child needs a bone marrow transplant, cells inside the umbilical cord at birth are an exact match. If a sibling has a rare blood or bone disease, cord blood from a brother or sister has a higher chance of being the match and the cure.
The process happens one of two ways. A syringe can be used to extract blood from the cord connecting mother and child, or the cord can be held up as the fluid containing the stem cells drains into a container.

Within 48 hours the material is then processed and stored at an approved private blood cord banking facility until a family physician sees a need to use the sample.

Imler said that, depending on medical history and the genetic make-up of the family, it may be that a child will not need the blood at a later date. In that case, a donation should be considered since the blood is going to be discarded anyway.

“Anybody and everybody can look at donating their cord blood,” said Imler. “It’s like going to the blood bank and donating blood- it might be used in an emergency or at another hospital and have nothing to do with your family. The same thing can happen with stem cells in cord blood.”

“There can be a match that affects a family completely across the country and that’s where public storage can prove to be beneficial.”

According to Kathy Engle, director of corporate communications for the Cord Blood Registry (CBR), only a third of donations meet all requirements for use but that shouldn’t stop anyone from donating.

Engle adds that there are free programs to help families who suspect stem cells will be needed at a later date.

“There are free programs for families that have a condition treatable by cord blood,” said Engle. “For instance, if you have a child with sickle cell anemia, and you become pregnant again, you would be eligible for free programs to collect and store that cord blood in the hopes that it could be a match for use in a transplant setting.”

Initial collection fees for cord blood range from $900 to $2,100 and can be divided over one or even two-year payment plans with most companies. Prepayment before a baby is born is another way to cover the cost of saving the blood and its elements.

Among the many known conditions treated by the stem cells in cord blood, certain types of leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hurler syndrome, and Tay-Sachs can all be fought with cord blood.

Clinical trials to treat diabetes, brain injuries, stroke, and HIV with stem cells are also currently being done.

More important than the many knick-knacks found on many baby gift registries, family members and friends can also help offset costs when cord blood banking is added to the list.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer