7 important questions on cord blood banking every to-be parent should ask

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Dr Rahul Naithani, head, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation at Max Super Speciality Hospital, tells us all about cord blood banking. Read on

Over the last couple of years, cord blood banking has been a subject of much speculation. While it has impressed many urban parents, some still question it's effectiveness.

And, if you are a parent-to-be and are still wondering what it is and how it can help your baby, we've got the answers for you!

Indusparent spoke to Dr Rahul Naithani, senior consultant and head, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi, to answer some basic questions parents may have when cord blood banks approach them to bank their baby’s cord blood.

1. What is cord blood?

"Cord blood is the blood that flows from the mother to the baby in the womb through the umbilical cord. It is very rich in stem cells,"explains Dr Naithani.

"It is like the normal blood circulating in the human body, except that it is much richer in stem cells which have the potential to grow into different cells, tissues, and organs," he adds.

2. How is a newborn’s cord blood collected?

"It is like the normal procedure of drawing blood from the body through a syringe, except that normal human blood is drawn from the vein, either for a test or for transfusion. In this case, it is drawn from the baby’s umbilical cord just after birth and stored in a cord blood bank for use later to cure haematological or immunological disorders," shares Dr Naithani.

He adds, "The umbilical cord has about 75 ml, but the number of stem cells in it is very small and that is major drawback. But these cells are very potent in terms of their ability to grow into tissues and organs."

3. What's the use of banking the baby’s umbilical cord blood?

"It depends on what you are storing it for. If you are storing it in a private bank (there are many of them in the country) for curing a medical condition that may develop later in life, the individual whose cord blood has been stored is absolutely useless, because this stored cord blood has the same genetic make-up as the blood circulating in patient’s body, so it cannot cure that person," he explains.

"At present any use of cord blood, apart from regeneration of stem cells to treat haematological (blood related) or immunological disorders is investigational," adds the specialist.

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4. Should one consider private cord blood banks? 

You have to differentiate between public and private cord blood banking. So while private banking of this blood for self-use, has no meaning the potential for public banking of cord blood for others’ use is enormous.

"People should be aware that at present cord blood is approved only for 80 medical conditions i.e. blood-related disorders only. But if the child gets any of these his/her own stored cord blood cannot be used because it already has the genetic disorder that has caused the disease," explains Dr Naithani.

He says, however, if they are storing their baby’s cord blood, and paying through their nose for it, in the hope that some medical discovery may happen in the future from which the individual could benefit, it is their choice.

"But I don’t think it is advisable. So my verdict is clear, private no, public yes! In fact, there is a huge unmet need for public cord blood banks," he candidly adds.

5. What is cord blood used for?

"It is used for stem cell regeneration. Cord blood banking is important for bone marrow transplant or cord blood transplant. Cord blood transplant or bone marrow transplant is only for hematopoietic stem cell transplant (blood-forming stem cells). It is useful only for blood disorders and not for other degenerative or neurological disorders," he explains.

If a patient of blood cancer or other haematological disorder needs a hematopoietic stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant and if he has only one sibling with whom there is only 25 percent chance of matching, in such a case cord blood cells can be a saviour. That is because cord blood cells are naïve cells.

"They are less likely to hurt (i.e. be rejected by the recipient’s body) the patient because they have not been trained to hurt. So with cord blood, even if we don’t have a full match, we can still use it for transplant unlike in bone marrow transplant where a full match is necessary," he says.

6. What are the conditions in which cord blood transplant could help?

Dr Naitahni shares, "In India, the biggest is thalassemia major. Every year we have 10,000 to 12,000 thalassemia major babies being born who need transplant. Then there are a lot of blood cancers, leukaemia is one of them, aplastic anaemia and certain immunological disorders too can be cured by hematopoietic stem cell transplant."

He adds that there are 80, 000 cases of malignant blood disorders being diagnosed in India every year.

"Not all of them need transplant, but a large number of them do. Around 30 percent of them would have sibling matches, but the other 70 percent who do not have matches, and can afford transplant could be cured if there were enough cord blood in public cord blood banks," he says.

7. Has its demand risen, if so, why?

"Yes, it is precisely because of the growing incidence of cancer and blood disorders that demand for this facility is huge and rising," shared Dr Naithani.

Read: How to care for your baby's umbilical cord

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[All images courtesy: Instagram]

Written by

Deepshikha Punj