The donation of cord blood is a simple process that could save someone's life and requires nothing more than a person's consent and a quick blood test following the donation. Donating cord blood involves the collection of the placenta after birth and the insertion of a needle through which the blood can flow and be collected. At least 40ml are required for a successful donation but as much as 150ml may be harvested at any one time. The cord blood is collected for use in stem cell therapy and the treatment of hematopoietic disorders.
Most women are able to donate cord blood after giving birth but those that are carrying twins and multiples are unfortunately unable to do so. This is because the size of the placenta in these cases is usually too small. Similarly, those women with a pre-existing blood condition are also unable to participate in any collection. A short series of questions will establish the suitability of the donor and will be conducted at the hospital prior to participation. No harm to either mother or child can result from a properly conducted donation
What is cord blood used for?
Cord blood is vital for a number of life saving medical treatments and is highly valued by patients with life threatening diseases. New medical uses are being discovered all the time but at the present time the main uses are in the treatment of the following conditions:
- Treatment of malignancies in the blood; ie. leukaemia, lymphoma
- Bone marrow failure.
- Treatment of blood disorders; sickle cell, thalassaemia
- Metabolic disorders.
As new therapies become possible the number of diseases and conditions will increase; and as a child may be the perfect recipient of a mother's cord blood donation the motivation for banking your blood is never more obvious. Private storage banks will happily retain a sample of blood for use by the donating family.
The stem cells found in cord blood are the so called master cells of the body. They are "unspecialised" which means they can develop into any type of blood that the body may require, eg. white blood cells, red blood cells or platelets. Their versatility and their importance for research make them a considerable addition to medicine.
Public or Private
One of the most controversial aspects of cord blood collection is the issue of whether the donation be made for public or private use. A private donation means that the blood is stored only for the use of the donor and family. As the blood is cryogenically preserved the donation could be available for use at a much later stage of the child's life. Estimates for the likelihood of ever needing the stem cells collected before the age of 20 range from 1 in 5000 and 1 in 20000. Public donation, one the other hand, makes the blood available to those in immediate need. Public donation is a purely altruistic act as no direct benefit may accrue from the gesture. The more people that make public donations improves the chances of obtaining a good match for the patient in need.