Umbilical cord blood, also referred to as “placental blood”, is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta following delivery and cord separation. It is considered an invaluable and rich source of stem cells, which are genetically unique. Until recently, it has been considered as medical waste and discarded together with the placenta and umbilical cord.
What is umbilical cord blood? More
What are stem cells? More
Stem cells are primitive multipotent cells with the potential to self-renew, differentiate and create all types of cells that form the human organism e.g. nerves, bone, muscle, blood tissue. Cord blood also contains hematopoietic stem cells which have the potential to differentiate into:
- Red blood cells: responsible for carrying oxygen to all body cells
- White blood cells: involved in combating infection
- Blood platelets: enhance the coagulation process
What are stem cell applications? More
Nowadays, stem cells are primarily used for therapy transplantations in patients who underwent intensive chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy, as a means of annihilating cancerous cells. Unfortunately, chemo and radiotherapy eradicate both neoplastic cells and healthy stem cells located in bone marrow. In order to restore the patient’s hematopoietic system and regenerate his/her immune system, stem cell transplantation is applied. The transplanted cells find their way to the bone marrow where they proliferate and create new blood cells and regenerate the immune system.
What type of conditions can be treated with stem cells? More
Research studies conducted on stem cells are highly promising. The latest findings reveal that:
- Stem cells derived from cord blood have a chance to be used in Alzheimer and Parkinson disease treatment
- Stem cells have the potential to differentiate into muscle tissues which may one day be used in cardiac disorders treatmen
- Clinical trials on stem cell transplantation for hereditary and immune disorder therapy are underway.
Can the cord blood derived from one of my children be used by his/her sibling or other family member? More
Yes, if this form of therapy is medically justifiable and the tissues are sufficiently matched between the donor and the recipient. There is a 25% probability that sibling tissue antigens are a full match.
Do stem cells derived from the umbilical cord vary from other types of stem cells? More
Yes. Many experimental results provide evidence that stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood are more primitive, less developed and have a greater proliferation dynamic, compared to adult stem cells retrieved from bone marrow or peripheral blood. Freezing prevents cord blood stem cells from the process of ageing and protects them against defects which affect them in later stages of life. In general they are free from cancerous cells which form in later stages of cell life due to external environmental factors.
Why is cord blood (and not bone marrow) the object of growing interest among medical doctors and researchers? More
The donor - recipient match of bone marrow is extremely difficult because, in general, a perfect match is required. Cord stem cells are valued for their immunological immaturity which in turn results in a reduced amount of complications for the recipient (for allogeneic transplantation this means a less pronounced risk of rejection and ‘graft versus host disease’ expression). They can be used even if not fully compatible. This means that cord blood storage maximises the chances of a positive transplantation outcome among family members. A number of research studies indicate that the survival rate among related donors is nearly two times higher as opposed to unrelated donors, as a result of cord blood transplantation. Other reasons why cord blood is superior to bone marrow in transplantology:
- Immediate stem cell availability in case of emergency – they are harvested and stored prior to their use
- Reduced probability of ‘graft vs host disease’ incidence (Graft versus Host Disease, GvHD)
What are the perspectives associated with stem cell transplantation? More
So far, more than 35 000 cord blood transplants have been performed both in children and adults. In numerous cases, cord blood was used for the benefit of the donor’s sibling. Over the last two years, studies have revealed that cord blood stem cells have the capacity to differentiate into another type of cell e.g. muscle or nerve cells. Stem cells’ regenerative properties are currently the topical issue dominating the field of regenerative medicine. Stem cells were recognized as an invaluable biological material. More and more, research studies are committed to understanding stem cells’ full potential which could be applied in future to treat conditions such as: Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cardiac and liver disorders, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries and strokes.
What is Graft versus Host Disease? More
‘Graft versus host disease’ occurs when the transplanted lymphocytes (responsible for immunological reactions) from the donor function as previously programmed and recognize the recipient’s cells as enemy cells. The donor’s lymphocytes annihilate the recipient’s cells. The annihilation process affects virtually all of the recipient’s cell types. Short life cycle cells, such as epithelium and selected parenchymatous organs, are the cells most vulnerable to the attack. As a result, this condition is characterized by syndromes specific to epithelium damages (rashes, urticaria, dry patches of skin and epithelium desquamation e.g. of the digestive tract = diarrhoea). This condition is acute and resistant to treatment. The reactions are far less intense in case of cord blood transplants as the cord blood cells are immunologically “naïve”.
What does a HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigens) match mean? More
The match refers to proteins called HLA antigens which reside on the surface of white blood cells and other human cells. They determine the tissue compatibility between the donor and the recipient. Although complete compatibility is optimal, studies have revealed that cord blood transplantations result in a positive outcome even if the match is not perfect. Stem cells derived from cord blood are characteristic for being less mature, immunologically more “naive”, as opposed to stem cells retrieved from bone marrow.
For how long has cord blood been harvested? More
The first transplantation was performed in 1988. By 2011, over 25 000 transplants have been conducted and continue to be performed today. By the end of 1995, collection and storage facilities were more common, making the service more available. Nowadays, thousands of parents are beneficiaries of this unique opportunity.
When is the exact moment for cord blood collection? More
Cord blood is harvested from the umbilical cord following the delivery and cord separation. The procedure is simple and painless, non-invasive and does not interfere with the course of the delivery.
How is cord blood harvested? More
Cord blood is drawn into a collection bag filled with preservative fluid (CPD), an anticoagulant. The CPD allows sufficient time for the blood to be delivered to the laboratory, where it can then be processed.
Is the blood collection hazardous to either the child’s or the mothers health? More
No. Cord blood is harvested only after the child’s delivery and cord separation. Collection takes approximately 5 minutes. It is painless, simple and safe both for the mother and child.
Is the hospital obliged to provide any blood collection equipment? More
No. Upon signing the agreement, parents are sent a “collection kit” which contains all relevant components for their child’s cord blood collection. It is the parents’ responsibility to remember to bring the collection kit to the hospital at the time of delivery.
Does a caesarean section affect the blood collection procedure? More
In the event of a caesarean section, the blood is collected directly after placenta expulsion. Medical studies indicate that the blood volumes drawn at vaginal or caesarean section delivery are comparable.
How long can stem cells be stored for? More
It is theoretically assumed that deeply frozen stem cells (-150 °C) can be stored for centuries. In practice, we base our knowledge on the findings made by Japanese scientists who tested stem cell viability frozen in 1973. These studies support the hypothesis that the defrosted cells have the potential to proliferate and to form colonies. Current findings substantiate the theory that cord blood stem cells preserved for 24 years still maintain their properties.
How can I be sure that my blood sample was not mistaken for a different one? More
Upon signing the agreement with the FamiCord, we provide a unique identification number which marks all components of the collection kit and the documentation. This excludes any mistakes or erroneous swaps.
If the blood sample ever becomes indispensable to my family how can I retrieve it? More
If the patient, whose stem cells are stored with FamiCord, is diagnosed with a condition and is eligible for stem cell treatment, it is essential to inform your doctor about the stem cell supply stored at our bank. The decision to apply them for therapeutic use is at the doctor’s discretion. Upon the decision to transplant the stem cells, the doctor in charge should get in touch with us to discuss the details of biological material procurement and provision of the necessary medical documentation. The parents should contact a member of staff from our Customer Service Department in order to request the relevant documentation, such as the certificate of stem cell deposit with FamiCord. Upon submitting the adequate documentation and determining the details of stem cell procurement with the doctor in charge, the material will be delivered to the designated centre/hospital for further use in therapy.
What are the banking options for cord blood? More
Two options for cord blood banking are available:
- In a family bank, such as a member of FamiCord Group, for autologous or allogeneic transplantation for related donors.
- In public banks for allogeneic transplantations for unrelated recipients – whereby the parents abandon their rights to the blood, and the donation is altruistic.
Every parent has the freedom to choose whether to donate their child’s blood to a public bank or to secure the blood for the exclusive use or their children and family.
Why do families decide to collect and store their children’s cord blood? More
To ensure that the cord blood stem cells can be used for therapy treatment at any given moment. This dismisses the necessity to search for donors, which is a costly, time-consuming, risky and does not guarantee a positive outcome. Early treatment minimises the progress of the disease and boosts chances for complete recovery.
What are the differences and similarities between public and family blood banking services? More
Intended Use of Blood
unrelated donor transplantation
autologous transplantation or related donor transplantation i.e. sibling or family member
nitrogen vapours/liquid nitrogen
nitrogen vapours/liquid nitrogen
State (Ministry of Health)
Blood use cost charged by clinic where the procedure was performed
several thousand Euro
no additional charges
Human Leukocyte Antigen Test (HLA) mandatory upon blood collection
100% compatibility for the donor, HLA testing obligatory for siblings prior to transplantation, full compatibility – 25%.
Likelihood* of using the blood by the child who donated it
blood is not intended for bank use
Likelihood* of using blood for siblings of a child who donated the blood
does not apply
Likelihood* of using blood for an unrelated match
according to various sources - 1/100 to 1/500
does not apply
* The likelihood of using cord blood is estimated on the basis of the average life duration of 70 years.