Donating Cord Blood

In recent years, the significance of stem cells has grown dramatically. Stem cells have an extraordinary ability to divide and differentiate into 220 different types of cells found in the human body. Due to this noteworthy capability, stem cells hold a crucial place in the field of Reparative Medicine, where diseases such as diabetes, cancer, osteopetrosis and heart disease, can be cured by replacing the damaged cell with the healthy cells derived from the stem cells.

What is the Significance of Umbilical Cord Blood?

Of the three main sources of stem cells, umbilical cord and placenta are considered to be the most important resource. Until recently, umbilical cord and placenta were thought of as waste materials, and therefore were discarded immediately after the childbirth without a second thought.

As the studies in the area of stem cells and cell-based therapies gained momentum, researchers soon realized that, like bone marrow, umbilical cord blood was an abundant source of stem cells. However, cord blood stem cells were especially useful as they could differentiate into different types of blood cells, such as red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Every year, thousands of people are diagnosed with life threatening diseases like cancer and blood or immune system disorders. For the treatment of such diseases, the doctor may find it necessary to reconstruct the patient’s haematopoietic system or the blood cell producing system using stem cells.

What About Bone Marrow?

Bone marrow transplant is the most common option used by doctors to regenerate the haematopoietic system. In this process, the bone marrow cells from the donor are transplanted into the patient. These cells then manufacture new blood cells and rejuvenate the patient’s blood cell producing system.

Typically, bone marrow donation is associated with all the risks that are involved with any general anaesthetic. The chances of any serious complications occurring during or after bone marrow donation are low for the donor. Normally the donor doesn’t experience any long-term effects, although there may be short-term effects including nausea, local pain and discomfort. However, finding people willing to undergo the process of donation, as well as finding someone who is a match to the recipient, can be particularly challenging. This is why many experts are turning to umbilical cord blood stem cells instead.

There are practically no risks involved in umbilical cord blood donation. Donating cord blood does not produce any adverse effects on the baby, mother or the entire birth process. Because umbilical cord blood is so easy to collect, the significance of umbilical cord blood in the treatment of life threatening diseases has increased drastically.

Can any Expectant Mother Donate her Child’s Umbilical Cord Blood?

Before a mother decides to donate her child’s umbilical cord blood, she should first discuss the eligibility guidelines of donating cord blood with her doctor. These eligibility guidelines are designed to protect the health of the recipients of donated stem cells. Some essential norms of the eligibility guidelines are:

  • The donor must be at least 18 years of age (in some places cord blood banks also accept donations from mothers who are 16 years of age) and in good health.
  • She should not suffer from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, medication-dependent diabetes, hepatitis B and C, and all forms of cancer except in situ cervical cancer and cured local skin cancer.
  • The eligibility is weighed if the mother suffers from malaria or sexually transmitted diseases

Is Cord Blood Donation an Intricate Process?

No, umbilical cord blood donation is not a complicated procedure. Once you decide to donate your child’s cord blood, you will have to find a cord blood participating hospital or public cord blood bank in your community. Unfortunately, though, there are only a small number of participating donor cord blood banks and collecting hospitals because the concept of cord blood donation is still new.

During your 34th week of pregnancy, you should establish contact with your cord blood bank. The bank will take your blood sample to determine whether you suffer from any infectious diseases or not. You will also be asked to fill out the consent form stating that you agree to donate your child’s umbilical cord blood, and a health history form to confirm that you fulfill the eligibility criteria for the donation of cord blood.

How is the Umbilical Cord Blood Collected?

After the delivery of the child, the umbilical cord is clamped and the link between the child and the placenta is broken. Using a needle, the blood is drawn from the umbilical cord and collected in a blood bag. The entire process takes no more than 10-minutes.

Normally, 3-5 ounces of cord blood is collected from the umbilical cord. After collection, the cord blood is tested to determine the HLA type and also to pick out signs of infection. At times, red blood cells and plasma are also removed to ensure that the cord blood occupies less storage space.

Who will have Access to the Donated Cord Blood?

Once the umbilical cord blood is stored in the public cord blood bank, it will be available to patients all over the world who require cord blood stem cells. The identity of the cord blood donor is never disclosed by the cord blood bank.

What if I Need the Stem Cells?

Unlike a private cord blood bank, where your child's stem cells are permanently reserved for your child and your family, when you donate stem cells, there is no guarentee that they will be available to you should you need them. Donated stem cells are distributed according to need. If someone else should need those stem cells before you, they will be given away.

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