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What is cord blood?

Cord blood is the blood left over in the umbilical cord and placenta after a baby is born.

Why is it important?

Cord blood is rich in blood-forming stem cells that can be used to treat people with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell disease and other life-threatening conditions.

Are cord blood stem cells the same as embryonic stem cells?

No. Cord blood stem cells do not come from an embryo. They are in the blood of the umbilical cord and placenta.

What is usually done with cord blood after the baby is born?

Unless the family decides otherwise, the baby’s cord blood is thrown away as a medical waste product.

What other options are there?

  • Donations to a public cord blood bank - Cord blood can be donated to a public cord blood bank. This makes the cord blood available for any person in need of a transplant. It is done anonymously. There is no charge to you if you donate the cord blood to a public bank.
  • Donations for Research - Cord blood can be donated for research studies. Doctors, researchers, laboratories and technology companies conduct studies on cord blood to develop new therapies and learn more about the biology of cells.
  • Private cord blood banking - Cord blood can be stored in a private cord blood bank for use by your family. In the event that someone related to your baby requires treatment for leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell disease or another serious condition, the cord blood might provide a suitable match for a transplant. Collection and annual storage fees will be charged.

If you decide to bank or donate your baby’s cord blood, arrangements must be made before you deliver the baby.

How is cord blood collected?

After the baby is born, the physician or midwife will drain the blood remaining in the placenta into a sterile, labeled bag. The collection is painless. No blood is taken from the baby.

What happens to the cord blood once it is collected?

Cord blood is processed, frozen and stored in the J.P. McCarthy Cord Stem Cell Bank at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit. This local, public cord blood bank is a network bank in the National Marrow Donor Program. From there, it can be searched and accessed by medical professionals around the world looking for a donor match for transplantation. 

What will I have to do if I decide to donate?

If you agree to donate your baby’s cord blood, you will be asked to:

  • Spend 15 minutes speaking with a Cord Blood Bank staff member to complete a confidential maternal and family history form.
  • Sign a consent form.
  • The mother will be asked to provide a blood sample, drawn from her arm when she is admitted to the hospital, which will be tested for infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV.

Will donating the baby’s umbilical cord blood change the delivery experience?

Donating cord blood will not change your labor or delivery in any way. During delivery, all the focus is on you and your baby. No blood is ever taken from your baby, only from the cord and placenta after the baby is born and the umbilical cord has been cut.

Who can donate?

Almost any family can donate their baby’s cord blood. Both mom and baby must be healthy, with no history of infectious disease and it must be a single birth (meaning not twins or triplets).

Does it cost anything to donate cord blood?

There is no cost to you when you donate cord blood to a public cord blood bank.

How is our privacy protected if I donate to a public bank?

The cord blood bank keeps your names confidential; it protects the privacy of the donating family. Names are not shared with any patient or transplant center. The baby’s cord blood is identified by number, never by name.

If I donate to a public cord blood bank will the cord blood be available for use by someone in my family?

Donated cord blood is available for use by anyone who needs it. If the cord blood is in the bank, it would be available for a member of the donating family who is in need of a transplant. Keep in mind that the cord blood might not be a good tissue match even though the patient is related to the baby.

Why is it important to bank a large number of different cord blood units?

For a transplant to be successful, the tissue type of the donor needs to match the patient’s as closely as possible. The likelihood of a close match between any two people (even family members) is very small. A large number of banked cord blood units increases the likelihood that a match will be found for a specific person.

Why is there an urgent need for minority and mixed-ethnicity donors?

Tissue types are inherited so people are more likely to match someone who shares their racial or ethnic heritage. Stem cells of African Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans are in very short supply. Increasing the number of units from these families will improve the odds that a match will be found for people of African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American or mixed descent.

© 2014 Karmanos Cancer Institute Pencil
The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center is accredited by The Joint Commission.
If members of the public have any quality-of-care or safety concerns, they may notify The Joint Commission at 630-792-5800.