What is cord blood banking, and what has it got to do with your baby?

By week 27, you may have heard your doctor talk about cord blood banking and how useful it is to treat blood disorders. What is cord blood? How does it work?

What is cord blood?

Cord blood is blood from the umbilical cord. After the umbilical cord separates from your child, the doctor will extract the cord blood for processing, freezing and storage.

Why do they need to do this?

The Blood Stem Cells (BSC) within the cord blood are used for stem cell transplants (SCT), which are important for patients suffering from certain blood disorders or cancers.

Who can receive BSCs?

Matching must first be done in order to receive BSC from someone else. The chance of mismatch is high, which may make cord blood banking more desirable. However, the chances of a child being able to use his or her own BSC is low if they suffer from certain blood disorders, as the genetic makeup of these BSCs is damaged. Alternatively, the child's siblings may be able to use the BSC instead, as there's a higher chance for a positive match within the family.

How is the cord blood processed and preserved?

A laboratory will separate the BSC from the extracted cord blood. A chemical protectant is added before the BSC is placed into large tanks filled with liquid nitrogen, at a temperature of around -180°C. This facility is known as a cord blood bank.

What's the difference between private and public cord blood banks?

Think of it this way: a private cord blood bank works like a bank, while a public cord blood bank works like a donation. If you open a savings account for your money in a bank, only you can access the money. Similarly, for private cord blood banks, your child's BSCs are for personal use — no one else can touch it.

A public cord blood bank is for everyone. For patients who require an SCT but do not have a donor, a public cord blood bank is especially useful as it's easier to find a perfect or partial match. However, your child will not have exclusive rights to her or her own cord blood within a public cord blood bank.

Please note that cord blood banking is an option, but never compulsory. Public banking optimises the chances of use of the stored cord blood and opens up the possibility of access to a bank of cord blood should the need arise.


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By Associate Professor TAN Thiam Chye Head & Senior Consultant, Dr TAN Shu Qi Senior O&G Resident,
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, KK Women's and Children's Hospital

The New Art and Science of Pregnancy and Childbirth 2008, World Scientific
Healthy Start for your Pregnancy 2012, Health Promotion Board Singapore

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