CORD BLOOD: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
What is cord blood?
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and the attached umbilical cord after a baby is born.
Cord blood is rich in blood stem cells, which are the building blocks of all blood cells in our body. Similar stem cells are also produced in the bone marrow. Among other functions, stem cells produce blood cells that carry oxygen, fight infection and stop bleeding. Cord blood stem cells can be collected after the baby is born and can be frozen and stored indefinitely.
What is cord blood used for?
Cord blood is used to treat blood diseases such as leukaemia, lymphoma and anaemia, as well as immune or metabolic disorders. These diseases are sometimes treated with high doses of chemotherapy, which destroy the patient’s immune system. Cord blood transplantation or bone marrow transplantation is then used to rebuild the immune system of the patient. Cord blood is increasingly being used as an alternative to bone marrow transplantation.
It is known that cord blood contains some other types of stem cells. Researchers around the world are exploring other ways to use cord blood, for example, in the treatment of diabetes or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. While this is an exciting prospect, investigations and clinical trials are at an early stage, and cord blood transplant is only used to treat blood and immune diseases at this time.
What is the difference between cord blood stem cells and embryonic stem cells?
Cord blood contains naturally occurring stem cells that can generate any type of blood cell and some other types of cells. Embryonic stem cells are created in the laboratory by growing the cells of a very early embryo in a dish. Embryonic stem cells have the potential to generate any type of cell in the body.
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE CORD BLOOD BANKING
What is AusCord?
AusCord is the network of public cord blood banks in Australia, comprising Sydney Cord Blood Bank, BMDI Cord Blood Bank (Melbourne) and the Queensland Cord Blood Bank At The Mater (Brisbane).
What are the options for storing cord blood?
- Donate to a public cord blood bank. AusCord public cord blood banks collect and store blood for the use of anyone in the world in need of a stem cell transplant. The cord blood is not reserved for your family. AusCord cord blood banks are government-funded for public donation, so there are no costs to the donor family or to Australian patients receiving a transplant.
- Pay for the services of a private cord blood bank. A private cord blood bank charges a fee to collect, freeze and store your baby’s cord blood for your family’s future medical use (this factsheet does not cover private services).
- Store your baby’s cord blood as a ‘directed donation’. On rare occasions, a hospital will collect and store a baby’s cord blood for a family member who has a medical condition that can be treated with a cord blood transplantation. This is a free service, which requires a treating doctor’s approval.
If I donate to the public cord blood bank, is there any way I can get access to the cord blood if my baby or a family member becomes ill later?
In the unlikely event that a member of your family needs a cord blood transplant, if the cord blood unit is still in the bank and suitable, it would be made available. However, there is no guarantee that the cord blood unit will still be in the bank. Transplantation with a cord blood unit from a family member (or even from the donor themselves) is not necessarily the most suitable course of treatment.
PUBLIC CORD BLOOD COLLECTION
How is the cord blood collected?
Trained obstetric staff or AusCord collectors collect the cord blood. The collectors draw the blood from the umbilical cord vein either before or after the placenta has been delivered. The collection procedure does not interfere in any way with the birth and causes no pain or discomfort to mother or baby. Sometimes a collection may be not suitable for banking due to inadequate volume and/or number of cells collected.
Does AusCord accept all offers to donate cord blood?
Cord blood is collected at participating AusCord collecting hospitals during established hours (generally Mondays to Thursdays). Unfortunately, AusCord is not able to guarantee a collection.
If you want to donate your baby’s cord blood, you will need to complete a questionnaire to ensure that you meet all eligibility criteria.
Can I donate cord blood in a hospital that is not an AusCord participating hospital?
The collection, processing and storage of cord blood use specialised techniques that must be performed by trained staff in facilities licensed by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration. For these reasons, only AusCord participating hospitals collect cord blood for public banking. Currently, there are 11 AusCord participating hospitals in Australia:
- Royal Hospital for Women, Randwick NSW
- Prince of Wales Private Hospital, Randwick NSW
- Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown NSW
- St George Private Hospital, Kogarah NSW
- Women’s Hospital, Parkville VIC
- Frances Perry House, Parkville VIC
- Box Hill Hospital, Box Hill VIC
- Angliss Hospital, Upper Ferntree Gully VIC
- Mater Mothers’ Hospital, South Brisbane QLD
- Logan Hospital, Meadowbrook QLD
- Royal Darwin Hospital*, Tiwi NT
*Donations from indigenous Australians only
Can I donate if I’m expecting twins?
We do not collect cord blood from twin births to avoid the risk of mix-ups or errors in donor identity.
Why do you need to know my ethnicity?
The success of cord blood transplantation relies on matching the donor and patient. Cells in your body have markers called Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA), which control immunity. If the donor and patient’s HLA match, the transplant is more likely to be successful. People of the same ethnic origin are more likely to have compatible HLA.
Cord blood banks around the world are continuously seeking donations from people from non-North-West European backgrounds to improve the chance of patients from all ethnicities finding a compatible cord blood unit. Equally, we continue to welcome donors of North-West European background, as they donate the most commonly used units for transplants in the Western world.
CORD BLOOD BANKING
What happens to the cord blood after collection?
Once you have signed a consent form and the cord blood has been collected, it is taken to an AusCord cord blood bank. The cord blood unit is assessed against quality and safety criteria and processed by qualified laboratory staff.
The blood is separated into three components. One of these components, the “buffy coat”, contains the stem cells that are needed to rebuild a patient’s immune system after chemotherapy. All components are used for testing, and the buffy coat is frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen tanks for use in potential transplants.
Do I have a say in how my baby’s cord blood will be used?
You will be required to sign a consent form before the cord blood can be processed and stored. In the form, you can consent for the blood to be banked for future transplantation and/or used for research.
Are all cord blood donations banked for transplantation?
Many factors are taken into account before a cord blood unit is banked for transplantation to ensure the highest standards of quality and safety. These factors include the volume of blood collected, the number and type of cells collected, a screen to ensure the cord blood is free from infection and disease, and completion of a family health questionnaire after donation and six months later.
If the cord blood is not suitable for banking, it may be used for research (if you have given consent).
Please note that if your cord blood does not meet all the criteria for banking, this does not necessarily mean that there is any problem with your health, or that of your baby. This is usually because insufficient cells were collected.
What diseases do you screen for?
Around the time of birth, we screen for hepatitis B and C, HIV (AIDS), syphilis, cytomegalovirus and human T-lymphotropic virus and malaria (depending on travel history), and at follow-up we may need to repeat some of these tests. Some of these are notifiable diseases, which means we must report positive results to health authorities. You will also be notified and given the opportunity for medical follow-up if needed.
Six months after donation, we may ask you to have a test for malaria if you had been to a malaria endemic country in the four months prior to the birth of your baby.
Why do you need cord blood for research?
Research involving cord blood helps to develop new uses for stem cells, to improve cord blood transplant outcomes and procedures at cord blood banks and to develop new diagnostic tests, such as for diseases in newborn infants. Research projects are only carried out after receiving approval from an institutional Human Research Ethics Committee.
How likely is it that my baby’s cord blood will be used for transplantation?
As every cord blood unit and every patient is unique, it is impossible to know how likely it is that your baby’s cord blood will be used. What we do know is that of the approximately 25,000 cord blood units stored by AusCord about 100 are released for transplanteach year.
Can I find out who has used my baby’s cord blood?
Information on cord blood donation and transplant is strictly confidential. No personal details are exchanged between donors and patients.
MORE ABOUT AUSCORD
Who ensures AusCord’s quality standards?
The AusCord cord blood banks are licensed by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to collect, process and store cord blood units. The banks are also accredited under the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT), an international organisation that promotes the highest quality standards and laboratory practices for cord blood banks. The banks are among only about 30 cord blood banks worldwide to be FACT-accredited. Maintenance of the TGA licence and FACT accreditation requires consistently good performance at regular audits.
Who do I contact to update my contact details?
Please contact the relevant AusCord cord blood bank.
Where can I find more information on cord blood banking?