If you’re expecting a baby, the world is a sea of new information. Among the many scientific facts floating around, you may have heard a doctor or a friend mention cord blood banking. This is the process of saving stem cells from blood and sometimes tissue of the umbilical cord during childbirth. It has many potential health benefits, but, unless you think ahead, this genetic material is often discarded as medical waste. Preserving your newborn’s stem cells may help open doors to a healthy future.

A powerful source

When a baby’s umbilical cord has been clamped and cut after birth, cord blood is left in the umbilical cord and placenta. Cord blood has some unique properties. “This cord blood is rich in a type of stem cell called hematopoietic stem cells, which give rise to the cells of our blood and immune system,” says Eliza Stroh, M.S., LCGC, Cord Blood Clinical Specialist at Cord Blood Registry (CBR). When these cells are collected at birth and preserved, they may be used later in treatment for family members who are an appropriate match or, depending on the condition, the child him or herself. They can even be donated anonymously to patients in need. These are tiny cells with huge potential.

The medical applications of these cells are widespread, adds Stroh. “[These] cells have been used for decades in the treatment of over 80 diseases including certain cancers, immune disorders and metabolic diseases.” To date, there have been over 35,000 cord blood stem cell transplants performed worldwide from publically-banked cord blood.

"For family banking, CBR is a well-established option and the largest family banking facility in the world."

In addition, researchers are currently reaching new frontiers in labs in, the U.S. and internationally for the use of cord blood cells—often when using the child’s own cord blood stem cells. “The really exciting research is being done in their potential for regenerative applications,” says Glen H. Silas, M.D., an OB/GYN specialist at Capital Women’s Care in Virginia, “These include diseases like juvenile diabetes, cerebral palsy, breast cancer, types of blindness, autism, et cetera.” Researchers are encouraged by these early studies, some of which are still being studied in the laboratory.

There are clinical trials underway, like those sponsored by CBR, that are studying to determine if the use of cord blood is safe and effective, potentially providing a new therapeutic option for these conditions. Initial results of an autism study underway at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute are expected to be published this year, which may pave the way for new studies to emerge. Researchers are hopeful this will provide more families with access to this exciting research.

Thinking ahead

You can consider your options for cord blood banking as early as the first trimester of pregnancy. For family banking, CBR is a well-established option and the largest family banking facility in the world. With access to certified genetic counselors, an assistance program for those with a qualifying medical need, and ongoing research underway, this is a great way to get the most out of cord blood banking. They make the process as easy as going online or making a quick phone call. After enrolling, a collection kit is shipped to your home.

Your doctor will be able to take care of the collection at the time of birth, after which a medical courier picks up the kit at the hospital and safely transports it to the storage facility. According to Dr. Silas, OB/GYN specialists are experienced in collecting cord blood, and most prenatal healthcare providers will know what the procedure entails. “The process is pretty straightforward,” he says, “Most clinicians have been trained and are experienced using the kits patients may present.”

It’s a decision best made early, says Dr. Silas, at least a month prior to your due date, in order to “allow for registration with a private bank when chosen.” A family cord blood company will help you take care of the future so you can enjoy the present.