Today, there is no dearth of information on cord blood banking, its benefits and its potential uses in treating illnesses. While the big picture is clear, parents need to know exactly how cord blood stem cells are extracted and stored. And what are the health implications if any. Firstly, cord blood extraction is ‘non-invasive’. It means that neither the mother’s nor the baby’s body is harmed in any way. Cord blood is extracted from the umbilical cord just after the baby is born. Earlier, both the umbilical cord and placenta where thrown away as medical waste. However post the discovery of hematopoietic stem cells in cord blood (1970s), doctors have encouraged the collection and storage of the umbilical cord.
So what happens in the labor room?
Whether it’s a vaginal birth (what we call a ‘normal’ delivery) or a Caesarean, cord blood extraction can be done easily and painlessly. After the baby has been delivered, the doctor clamps the umbilical cord on both sides, cuts it and then unclamps one side to allow a small tube to pass into the umbilical vein to collect the blood. This is done just before the placenta comes out. Once the placenta is out, needles are placed on either side of its surface to collect the blood and cells. Collection is done using the specific kit of the chosen stem cell bank. All this is done after the baby is safely out and the mother is more or less finished with the labor process.
The cord blood is then placed into the collection kit, couriered to the stem cell bank and on arrival, given an identification number. Stem cells are then extracted from the sample and stored cryogenically (frozen in liquid nitrogen). These stored stem cells can technically last forever. When they are needed, the cells are thawed, expanded and delivered for use.
It is important to decide on cord blood banking while the middle to late stages of pregnancy, as you will have to receive your collection kit and inform your doctor. After all, those precious moments after birth provide the only window of opportunity to collect cord blood stem cells.