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Ask Dr. Marla: What is cord blood banking?

What is cord blood banking, and should I do it when my child is born?


Cord blood is the blood that is still present in both the placenta and umbilical cord after birth. This blood is unique. It is rich in stem cells. Stem cells are cells that are “pleuripotential”. That means they have the ability and potential to become any cell in the body. The stem cells are immature cells and they can divide and renew endlessly. These cells, which are normally found in our bone marrow, are present in very high concentrations in both the placenta and the umbilical cord, so they can easily be collected.

Once the stem cells are harvested from the cord blood, they are frozen and preserved in liquid nitrogen, where they can be kept for at least 20 years.

Stem cells have been used in the treatment of many diseases, including leukemia, Hodgkins Disease, Sickle Cell Anemia, Multiple Sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The thought behind banking cord blood is that it allows you to store these stem cells should your child some day require a life-saving option. If stem cells in the bone marrow become abnormal or are destroyed through treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, stem cells can also be used to replace the damaged cells without having to find a matched donor.

While there are more than 50 lifethreatening diseases that have used stem cells as part of a therapy, it is unclear what future use for these stem cells will be. We do know that these banked cells are a perfect match for your child. It is also possible that these cells could be a match if required for a family member such as a sibling.

The future of stem cells is exciting, opening the door for future therapies for diseases such as Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, arthritis, stroke and heart attack.

There is a fee for the collection and an annual storage fee. A study done in 2008 quoted the chance of a child using his or her cord blood as 1 in 400 over a lifetime but it is believed that with new treatment uses for cord blood, the opportunities for its use will grow. As always, sit down with your health-care provider to have what could be a life-saving discussion.

Got a health question? Submit it to Dr. Marla.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2012.

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