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July is National Cord Blood Awareness Month

As a pediatrician I am often asked about cord blood banking in prenatal consults and in the newborn nursery. It is a topic that is important for families to know more about so they can make an informed decision before a baby is delivered. 

Why is cord blood banking or donation important?

Cord blood is rich in blood-forming cells that can be used in transplants for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and other life-threatening blood diseases. Cord blood can be used to treat certain cancers and other life-threatening illnesses. The majority of cord blood is used to treat illness in a family member, however, in rare cases a donor can use his or her own cord blood for treatment.

Cord blood has now surpassed bone marrow as a source for stem cells in transplants with 25 percent of all stem cell transplants coming from cord blood units. While originally used for transplant in children only, by combining multiple units, cord blood is now being used successfully in adults. It is harder to find a match for some ethnic and racial backgrounds, such as African Americans and Asians Americans. The more diversity we have in donors the better chance a match can be made.

Public cord blood donation and private cord blood banking

Expectant parents have options when it comes to what to do with their baby’s cord blood. These options include private cord blood banking and public cord blood donation.

Private cord blood banks allow families to store cord blood and keep for their own personal use at a later date if needed. There are fees associated with private cord blood banking. The costs can include the initial set-up fees and then annual fees for each year the cord blood is stored.  Some private banks are for-profit companies and are not required to maintain the same regulations to which public donation banks must adhere. It is important to ask private banks a few key questions before making your decision:

1. Are they accredited?

2. What is their rate of successful transplant?

3. What are all the fees including initial donation and storage? 

4. How does the bank handle patient confidentiality?

5. Does the bank notify families if donated samples have enough stem cells to qualify for a transplant?

Public banks are often not for profit organizations that work with patients, physicians, and hospitals worldwide to find and obtain matches for patients. The cord blood they store is donated, therefore not banked for a specific family. Public banks do not charge fees for collection and storage. Public banks are also required to be accredited to ensure the collection and storage are held to a high standard. Public banks can be searched by physicians worldwide to find matches for patients. 

How to donate

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association both encourage parents to consider donating their baby’s cord blood. To donate to a public bank, the hospital you deliver in must accept cord blood donations. Currently, Piedmont Atlanta Hospital and Piedmont Henry Hospital accept donations working with non-profit public cord banks. If your Piedmont hospital does not yet offer this service, you are still able to donate through mail-in donation programs. You will need to pre-register to participate in a mail-in donation program, so speak to your OB/GYN or midwife about the process.

For more information on the benefits of cord blood and cord blood banking, go to the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation and Be The Match. For information on cord blood banking at Piedmont, visit www.piedmont.org.

Samira Brown, M.D., is a pediatrician with Piedmont Physicians Covington Pediatrics.

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