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Bank or donate precious stem cells

Once discarded as waste following childbirth, the umbilical cord is now revered for its concentration of stem cells that can be used to treat over 80 illnesses. Fortunately, banking technology has given expectant parents the opportunity to preserve this precious material for a future need.  

“Stem cells are cells that have the ability to adapt to their surroundings to replenish and repair tissue,” said Manuel Arreguin, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Geisinger. “They are celebrated for their health benefits and are used in medical treatments for cancer, immune system disorders and blood diseases.”

Donating or storing cord blood is a simple and painless process, but it’s one that should be discussed with your doctor in advance of your child’s birth. 

Here’s what you need to know to begin a conversation with your doctor about cord blood banking. 

Types of banks, limitations and cost

When selecting a cord blood bank, it’s important to do your research. 

“Banks can be public or private,” said Dr. Arreguin. “But all facilities must register with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which doesn’t endorse or recommend any specific banks.”

Public cord banks offer services at little to no charge but operate similarly to a standard blood bank, where those in need will receive the blood first. Your child’s cord blood can’t be saved for your child in the event that they need a stem cell transplant. It can also be used for scientific research. However, some public banks offer what is called a “directed donation,” where the donation is saved for a family member. This may be a drawback for some families, who aim to use cord blood banking as an extra assurance for their own child, promising a perfect match if they are ever in need of tissue. 

Public banks are funded primarily through federal grants and tax dollars, which allow them to maintain a low cost of participation.

Private cord banks will store cord blood for use only by the donor, but this can be expensive. They typically charge an initial fee for processing and storage, then a monthly or annual fee for storage and maintenance. These fees vary by facility and location, but the one-time processing fee often costs between $1,000 and $1,500, with annual storage costing between $90 and $175. 

There are a few limitations of cord blood collection. First, studies have shown that the likelihood of a child actually using their own cord blood is very small—between one in 400 and one in 200,000. In this case, the material will stay in storage for all of its usable life. In other cases, patients with genetic disorders as a result of a mutation will usually find that mutation present in their stored cord blood, rendering it ineffective for treatment.

Cord blood collection
If you decide to move forward with cord blood collection, you should first speak with your doctor or midwife so they are prepared for the process. 

“Cord blood can be collected within 15 minutes of placenta delivery,” said Dr. Arreguin. “It’s totally painless for mother and baby. During the process, a member of the care team will drain blood from the umbilical cord into a container provided by the bank.”

Blood is then tested for mutations, diseases or substances to ensure that it is qualified for medical use. During this time, health records for mother and baby will also be filed to provide context for the samples. Those with privacy concerns may want to consult their bank.  

In the case of private, long-term storage, the blood is frozen and stored, making it safe to use for 15 years. In fact, banks have successfully transplanted cord blood that was stored for over 18 years.

Manuel Arreguin, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist and is director of Women’s Health at Geisinger Northeast. For more information about pregnancy and childbirth care at Geisinger, call 800-275-6401 or click here.