SPECIAL NOTE: If you are pregnant and you have a child with cancer, skip the remainder of this article and scroll to the bottom.
You can help save a life!
A decision to donate umbilical cord blood, which is rich with blood-forming cells, may potentially save the life of someone who has a life-threatening disease.
When faced with a decision of chemotherapy that requires a life saving bone marrow transplant, some children do not have matched donors and it could take a lot of time to find a suitable match.
Just like bone marrow, umbilical cord blood contains stem cells, and can be used instead of bone marrow in a transplant. Stem cells can replace damaged bone marrow in cancer patients that require treatment with very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Leukemia and lymphoma patients use life saving cord blood also. According to Duke Medical, stem cells can also correct diseases in which the marrow malfunctions (e.g. immune deficiency, aplastic anemia, red cell aplasia, white cell disorders). Stem cells produce other types of cells (glial cells and macrophages) that slowly, over about one year, travel to the brain, liver, and other organs. These cells can produce enzymes that are missing or defective in children with some inherited metabolic diseases (inborn errors of metabolism). If transplantation is carried out before significant damage has occurred the damage can be arrested and sometimes prevented.
In the past, stem cell transplants could only be performed in children who had matched donors in their families. Over the past ten years, cord blood banks have been established around the country and patients in need of a transplant can use donor units from these banks when they don’t have a matched donor in their family. Cord blood does not have to match as closely as bone marrow, so most patients (about 90%) will be able to find a donor within one to two weeks from a cord blood bank. Cord blood from newborns of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds is especially needed. Because tissue types are inherited, patients who need a stem cell transplant are more likely to find a matched cord blood unit from someone in their own race or ethnic group.
Donating cord blood to a public cord blood bank costs the donor nothing and involves talking with your doctor or midwife about your decision to donate and then contacting a cord blood bank (if donation is an option at your hospital). Upon arriving at the hospital, remind the labor and delivery team that you are donating umbilical cord blood. Donating cord blood does not change a mother’s labor or delivery in any way.
One reason parents don’t donate cord blood to a public bank is that they aren’t aware of the need or of the options available. Another reason is that donation isn’t offered as an option at every U.S. hospital because of funding limitations.
Fortunately, there are a few public banks that allow you to mail in your donation, provided you register early in pregnancy and complete all the registration requirements to obtain a remote donation kit. The mail-in programs make the donation option accessible to parents anywhere in the United States.
In 2012, it costs a public bank about $2,829 to collect, test, process, freeze, and store a single unit of cord blood. Grants from the federal government only reimburse $1,282 of that cost, on average. The high cost of processing and storing donated blood and the lack of adequate funding for public cord blood banks limit the number of hospitals that can accept donations. Recognizing the value of donated cord blood, Congress passed the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005, which was reauthorized in 2010. The Act created the National Cord Blood Inventory to increase the number of cord blood units available for transplant. It particularly emphasized the need for cord blood units from people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.
More information may be found at:
The National Marrow Donor Program: http://www.marrow.org/Home.aspx
The National Cord Blood Program: http://www.nationalcordbloodprogram.org
The Carolinas Cord Blood Banks: http://www.cancer.duke.edu/ccbb/
SPECIAL NOTE: If you are pregnant and you have a child that has been diagnosed with cancer:
DO NOT donate your cord blood. You may need it for your own child. Cord blood can be used when a bone marrow transplant is needed. If you donate, you will not be able to save it for your exclusive use. There are many companies that store cord blood for a charge. It’s pretty expensive, but when needed, it is well worth the cost. If a doctor thinks it could be needed in the future, several companies, at no charge, will store cord blood to be used for a sibling with cancer. Viacord is a good example of a company that is willing to store cord blood for up to five years for future use in a sibling with cancer, or if needed, for the newborn at a later date. Check out their website at http://www.viacord.com/special-transplant-programs.htm . Consult your doctor before you take any action.