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Why Should I Save my Baby's Umbilical Cord?

Most of the Time, the Umbilical Cord is Discarded After Delivery. Health Specialists Highlight the Importance of Promoting Awareness About the Storage of Umbilical Cord, a Rich Source of Stem Cells that are Used for the Effective Treatment of More than 80 Diseases.

Baby with his mother

Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Camisay

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Leer en español: ¿Por qué debería guardar el cordón umbilical de mi bebé?

This year marks the thirty-fourth anniversary of the first umbilical cord blood transplant performed on a 5-year-old boy, Matthew Farrow, who suffered from a rare form of anemia and was cured thanks to the donation of his newborn sister.

Just like Matthew, similar cases multiply by the thousands and, recently, one of them made the news again: a woman with HIV who underwent a cord blood procedure shows no trace of the virus or antibodies typical of the disease after several months after his intervention.

Although it is still early to speak of a cure, according to the scientists involved in the transplant, it is clear that the remaining blood from the placenta and the baby's umbilical cord has great therapeutic potential. However, it is not a magic cure for everything. That is why it is important to know how the storage of umbilical cord stem cells works in depth.

Also read: The Fight Against HIV AIDS Has Achievements, but Also Setbacks And Dangers

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its use in almost 80 diseases, including cancer and disorders related to the blood, immune system and metabolism.

Can you imagine having the solution for some of the health conditions that your child could manifest in the future? According to private blood banks, this is possible. The preservation of the umbilical cord cells works as an "insurance policy" that protects your child, including a close relative, from many pathologies and makes it possible to fight against them, if necessary.

Certainly, the benefits are vast and promising. This is why the scientific community of many countries is committed to the investigation of this biological source that is so versatile and free of ethical problems. However, along with the growing literature on the subject, false myths circulate that confuse and generate uncertainty about umbilical cord blood.

Below, we share some of the most common questions.

What characteristics does cord blood have?

Cord blood has a large number of stem cells that are named for their ability to develop into many different types of cells with specialized functions. Hence, when they divide, they can give rise to red and white blood cells or platelets, which are essential for the baby to grow and stay healthy in the womb.

Similarly, adults also have stem cells in some parts of their bodies, such as the bone marrow, which replace dead cells or regenerate damaged tissue, but they are less abundant or much more difficult to collect.

Stem cell transplantation from bone marrow or umbilical umbilical cord is part of the treatment of many diseases.

Although both share therapeutic qualities, it has been shown that cells obtained from the umbilical cord have the additional advantage that they do not require a close donor-recipient match, allowing a greater number of people to benefit from the therapy. At the same time, these stem cells are safer because the probability of rejection or viral infection is less frequent than other sources of adult stem cells.

What diseases can be treated with cord blood?

Today, the therapeutic use of cord blood is restricted to blood-related pathologies such as anemia, lymphoma, leukemia, some immunodeficiencies and metabolic disorders. At the same time, dozens of lines of research are underway aimed at broadening the horizon of this treatment.

Can umbilical cord blood collection harm the baby or the mother?

The process of extracting the blood from the umbilical cord does not hurt or pose a risk to the baby or the mother. It is collected from the placenta and the cord, once the baby has been born and it has been cut. At no time is blood obtained directly from the newborn, as it is a non-invasive procedure that does not interfere with delivery and postpartum.

Where is ubilical cord blood stored?

The decision to preserve umbilical cord blood is completely personal. If so decided, there are storage banks for private or public use. When cord blood is reserved in a public bank, the process is completely free and is intended for any eligible person who needs it.

On the other hand, if it is kept in a private bank, the blood will only be available to the donor and his family. This type of service is paid and demands a sum of money for the collection, storage and annual conservation. Regardless of which alternative is chosen, it is important to inform the obstetrician in advance of your interest in saving your baby's cord blood to perform the necessary previous procedures.

How long is cord blood stored?

To date, no one knows for sure what the shelf life of cord blood is. In this regard, the American Society of Blood Banks (AABB) points out that there is little evidence to give a figure. And he notes that certain studies have shown that umbilical stem cells cryopreserved for around 21-23.5 years still maintain their biological properties.

What are the recommendations of the medical-scientific field on the storage of cord blood?

Prominent voices in the health field have suggested being cautious in collecting cord blood for private use, since it does not constitute a guarantee of future treatment and that includes the following reasons:

  1. The probability of needing a transplant in the first 20 years of life is estimated to be 1 in 20,000.

  2. Cord blood is not suitable for genetic or congenital diseases.

  3. The content of stored stem cells may not be enough for transplantation.

  4. The stored stem cell content may not be suitable for another family member as it is not compatible.

Storing cord blood in private banks is only suggested when there is another child in the family who has a pathology that can be treated with this therapy. For the rest of the cases, the community opts for the altruistic donation that saves thousands of lives every year.