Dr Suman Bijlani, Gynaecologist, Sonologist, Infertility Specialist, Obstetrician and Laparoscopic Surgeon, Mumbai.

Cord blood banking

Cord blood banking:

What is cord blood banking?

Normally, at the time of delivery, the umbilical cord is cut off and discarded. The umbilical cord and cord blood are excellent store-houses of ‘stem cells’ which can be used to treat many diseases. Cord blood banking is a system of storage of umbilical cord and cord blood (in deep freeze) for future use so that it may be used to treat certain diseases in future.umbilical cord blood collection

What are ‘stem cells’ and how can they treat diseases?

The entire human body came from just one cell – the zygote or the fertilised ovum. This cell went on to differentiate into different specialized types of cells. For example, liver cells, skin or heart. Thus, this one single cell had the potential to create all types of cells of the human body.

Such a cell which can multiply and can be made to form any other cell is called a ‘stem cell’.Stem cell

Wow! That sounds like a sci-fi movie.

Yes, it is. The possibilities are immense. May be one day we will be able to form the entire human body, who knows!?

So, is this really happening today or are we just hoping that things would happen in future?

Stem cells from umbilical cord blood have being used in more than 30000 cases worldwide for the treatment of many diseases such as:

  • Various types of leukemia, myeloma and lymphoma (blood cancers)
  • Various blood diseases and disorders (thalassemia, sickle cell anemia)
  • Many metabolic, immune and genetic diseases

Stem cells are injected into the person who needs the transplant and they form the required type of blood cells.

In India, to date, about 32 transplants have taken place using umbilical cord blood, including 13 cases of thalassemia. The numbers are increasing fast.

What about forming new organs and tissues? Is this really happening?

The field of restoring damaged, lost or ageing tissues is known as regenerative medicine. Stem cells have been found to be able to regenerate damaged cells (heart muscle, joint cartilage, pancreatic cells which secrete insulin and damaged brain cells). One day soon, we should be able to treat heart disease, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis using stem cells. Research is progressing at an astounding pace in the field of stem cell technology.

List of possible diseases which may be treated by stem cells in the near future:

Nervous system:

  • Parkinsonism
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Brain/spinal cord injury
  • Stroke
  • Cerebral Palsy

among others

Cardiovascular system:

  • Myocardial infarction
  • Congestive cardiac failure

among others

Fertility:

  • Premature ovarian failure
  • Azoospermia (absent sperms in the male)

Bone:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Non-healing fractures
  • Bone and cartilage tumours
  • Tissue Injury

among others

Skin:

  • Non-healing ulcers/wounds
  • Burns
  • Anti-ageing?

Other major systemic diseases:

  • Type I diabetes
  • Type II diabetes (limited benefit)    
  • End stage renal disease
  • Cirrhosis of liver
  • Deafness, blindness
  • Missing teeth
  • Baldness

stem-cell-applications

What are the chances that, God forbid, my child might need stem cells? I would be spending a good amount of money, so I need to know whether this is all worth it.

Your child’s blood is stored for future use by himself/herself or any of your family members. So, you may be able to use his blood for his brother, sister or yourself. Being closely related genetically, you are likely to be able to utilise his/her cord blood in case of need.

As of today, the chances of needing cord blood for treatment would be about 1:2000.

But, year after year, with greater advances, the number of diseases being treated by stem cells is going on increasing. Besides, there is an increase worldwide in lifestyle diseases such as arthritis, diabetes mellitus, stroke, ischemic heart disease and cancer. Say, 20-30 years from now, cancers might be far commoner. Then stem cells would be the need of the hour.

How do I enrol myself for cord blood banking programme for my future baby? My wife is only 5 months pregnant.

There are various cord blood banking companies functioning in India today. You may get all the relevant information on the internet for the same. All you need to do is to contact a company’s representative and he/she would visit you to counsel you to understand the entire procedure of enrolment (including paperwork, terms and conditions, financial implications) as well as cord blood collection. The collection is done by their person in the hospital at the time of delivery and you need not worry about any of the logistics.

How do I select a good cord blood bank? What are the criteria to look for in a cord blood bank?

Let me list the criteria that you should be looking out for:

  • Credibility (years in the market – Indian and International, reputation and performance)
  • Accreditation (Indian and International)
  • Ask for hidden costs (for transportation/ multiplication of cells)
  • Costs (total cost and EMI facilities)
  • Insurance facilities for the baby in case transplant is required
  • Collaboration with major hospitals/ institutes if transplant is needed
  • Perks/sops (least important- look for main criteria instead)

Most companies draw out a contract of 21 years wherein you as parents, are guardians of your child’s cord blood. After 21 years, a new contract is drawn in the name of the child and the fees would be decided as per the then-existing charges for cord blood storage. Cord blood can be stored indefinitely!

Most companies store cord blood and cord tissue both. Storing cord tissue is very important as these cells would be needed for restoring damaged tissues. Hence, please opt for storage of both cord blood and tissues (may be at an additional cost).

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