Pregnant? Congratulations! Having a baby sets you on a steep learning curve, upon which you’re likely to come across the concept of cord blood banking.
With advanced medical knowledge in recent years, the benefits of blood from a baby’s umbilical cord has gained a substantial amount of attention. You may have read about Baby Georgia, who had an accident at birth and was deprived of oxygen. Because of this, Georgia has cerebral palsy. As a toddler, she had up to 50 seizures a day. Cordlife helped her family to get in touch with a renowned neurosurgeon who helped the little girl receive infusions of her own cord blood which was stored by Cordlife. Since then, her condition has improved.
It has become relatively easy to store cord blood for later use. Apart from helping its donor, cord blood has also been used to help donor’s families. Ryan suffered from leukemia when he was three years old. A nation-wide search ensued for bone marrow stem cells but no suitable donor could be found. His sister Rachel was born during this time, enabling the family to store Rachel’s cord blood at Cordlife for Ryan’s use. Ryan is now 15 and his leukaemia is in remission.
Storing your baby’s cord blood is a personal decision and one that you’ll only be able to make once you’ve found out all the facts related to it.
The Use of Cord Blood
The first thing to understand is what makes cord blood so useful. Cord blood is the remnant blood in the umbilical cord and placenta after the baby is delivered.
“It is a rich source of hematopoietic stem cells, which can help regenerate the bone marrow and give rise to other blood cell types,” explains Dr Daniel Lim, Deputy Laboratory Director, Cordlife Group Limited. “Hence, cord blood is commonly used to treat blood disorders. Advances in medicine has expanded the use of cord blood for non-blood related afflictions.
“It is a perfect match for the baby and a ready source for genetically-related stem cells for someone else in the family.”
Cord blood can be used to treat blood disorders, such as leukaemia, by regeneration of the bone marrow. Its use can be extended to the treatment of solid tumours (such as neuroblastoma, a cancer which occurs in infancy, and ovarian cancer), metabolic disorders and cerebral palsy, to name a few. Other therapeutic applications, such as the use of cord blood to correct genetic defects in siblings, are also being explored.
The Rise of Cord Blood Banking
Dr Lim tells us that cord blood banks arose in the 1990s when the therapeutic potential of cord blood was realised. The first documented cord blood transplant occurred in 1988, where it was used to treat Fanconi’s anaemia (an inheritable disease that mainly affects the bone marrow).
Since then, more than 30,000 cord blood transplants have been performed worldwide* and more than 100 cord blood units have been released for use in Singapore* (*as of 2013).
In May 2001, Cordlife Singapore became the first cord blood bank to be set up in Singapore. It was amongst the first in Asia. It was awarded a licence from Ministry of Health in 2001 and has been internationally accredited by the AABB (formerly known as American Association of Blood Banks) since 2005.
Collecting Cord Blood
Cord blood collection begins as soon as your baby is delivered. “After delivery of the baby, cord blood is drained from the umbilical vein into a sterile collection bag. This procedure is performed by the delivering doctor,” explains Dr Lim.
“The cord blood unit is brought to a laboratory where the cord blood stem cells are concentrated and frozen down. The cells are then deposited into a durable cryogenic storage tank which is maintained at ultra-low temperatures, ready for future use.”
The cord blood is thoroughly checked before it is stored. That which does not meet certain standards will be declined.
“While cord blood is a precious resource, some units have to be excluded from storage due to contamination from certain pathogens,” Dr Lim explains. “This is to avoid complications in the recipient after transfusion with a contaminated cord blood unit. The mother’s health history is also evaluated for eligibility of storage. Certain diseases (like genetic ones) may preclude storage or require consent since the cord blood’s use becomes limited.”
Cord blood can be donated to a public bank or kept purely for family usage in a family bank. The blood is stored identically in either circumstance – the stem cells in the cord blood are preserved cryogenically and thawed out for use needed.
The Cost of Cord Blood Storage
At Cordlife Singapore, there is a one-time payment of $1,950^ (+GST) for the processing and testing of the cord blood. This can be paid through your child’s CDA (Child Development Account) after the baby is born. Yearly fees are currently $250^ (+GST), payable on the child’s birthday each year.
“It is definitely worthwhile to safeguard nature’s most wonderful gift to us, as it is available in times of need,” says Dr Lim.
It Lasts Forever
The good news about cord blood banking is that you can store it forever, never having to worry about whether it is still usable.
“As long as the cord blood is cryogenically-preserved properly, it does not have an expiry date,” Dr Lim explains. “Hence, stored cord blood units may be used at any point in future and are never discarded. For public banks, the unit remains in depository until a matching recipient requests for it. For family banks, the cord blood is the property of the mother and subsequently, the child. It is solely reserved for the family’s use and is stored indefinitely unless instructed otherwise.”
So once again, why save your baby’s cord blood?
It is immediately accessible; there is no need to waste time sourcing when time is of essence. “Cord blood is ‘banked’ so that it is available for future use without having to source for a bone marrow donor when time for treatment can be critical,” says Dr Lim.
“Donation of the cord blood to the public bank is an altruistic option, while saving your baby’s cord blood at a family bank guarantees that it will be available for your child’s use. Of course, choosing a stable and reliable bank who have committed themselves to excellent quality standards is important as well.”
^ prices accurate at time of print