What is cord blood?

Cord Blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord following birth. Cord blood contains a mixture of many types of cells, including stem cells, which are the ‘building blocks’ of all other cells in the body. Cord blood also contains haematopoietic stem cells (HSC’s) which have the ability to develop into all types of human blood cells.

Until recently the placenta and umbilical cord were discarded after delivery as medical waste, but now research has shown that during pregnancy, cord blood becomes a rich source of blood (haematopoetic) stem cells, which can be collected, processed and cryopreserved for potential future use. The applications of cord blood are similar to those of adult bone marrow and are currently used to treat diseases and conditions of the blood or to restore the blood system after treatment for specific cancers.

Cord blood stem cells differ from other types of adult stem cells. Cord blood stem cells are biologically younger and have unique qualities and advantages compared to other sources of adult stem cell such as bone marrow:
• There is less risk of complications when used in transplants.(1)
• They are immediately available, and early treatment can minimise disease progression.(2)
• A complication of bone marrow haematopoietic stem cell transplants is graft versus host disease where the donor’s stem cells attack the patient's tissues. Because cord blood stem cells are collected before the immune system is matured, the risk is much lower than with other adult stem cells. For autologous use (where a child’s cord blood has been banked for their own use) this risk is eliminated.
• Freezing them "stops the clock" and protects them from environmental damage (such as radiation, chemicals), age, and viruses that would otherwise impact adult stem cells in our bodies over time.(3)
• As they are younger, they have the ability to grow faster and for longer than stem cells from other adult sources.
• Collection of cord blood is simple, safe, and painless.

References:

1. Rocha V, Wagner JE, Jr., Sobocinski KA, et al. Graft-versus-host disease in children who have received a cord-blood or bone marrow transplant from an HLA-identical sibling. Eurocord and International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry Working Committee on Alternative Donor and Stem Cell Sources. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(25):1846-1854. 2. Pazdur R, et al. Cancer management: a multidisciplinary approach. 1998. Second edition. 3. Behzad-Behbahani A, Pouransari R, Tabei SZ, et al. Risk of viral transmission via bone marrow progenitor cells versus umbilical cord blood hematopoietic stem cells in bone marrow transplantation. Transplant Proc. 2005;37(7):3211-3212.