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Cord Blood Q and A


+ What is cord blood?
+ Why do we need to have cord blood donated to
    public cord blood banks?

+ What are the advantages of cord blood?
+ Why is cord blood important for ethnic minorities?
+ Are there any unfavorable aspects of cord blood?
+ What is cord blood used for?
+ How long does cord blood remain viable?


What is Cord Blood?

After a baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut, some blood remains in the blood vessels of the placenta and the portion of the umbilical cord that remains attached to it. After birth, the baby no longer needs this extra blood. This blood is called placental blood or umbilical cord blood: "cord blood" for short.

Cord blood contains all the normal elements of blood - red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma. But it is also rich in hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells, similar to those found in bone marrow. This is why cord blood can be used for transplantation as an alternative to bone marrow.

Cord blood is being used increasingly on an experimental basis as a source of stem cells, as an alternative to bone marrow. Most cord blood transplants have been performed in patients with blood and immune system diseases. Cord Blood transplants have also been performed for patients with genetic or metabolic diseases.  More than 80 different diseases have been treated to date with unrelated cord blood transplants. [Click here to see a list of diseases treated with cord blood from the NYBC's National Cord Blood Program (PDF)]

Scientists are investigating the possibility that stem cells in cord blood may be able to replace cells of other tissues such as nerve or heart cells. Whether cord blood can be used to treat other kinds of diseases will be learned from this research.

NCBP cord blood unit

One NCBP unit contains 20 ml of cord blood, including almost all the white blood cells (including the hematopoietic stem cells) in the donated unit plus 5 ml of a cryoprotectant solution. The unit has a quarantine overwrap, is placed in a protective metal canister and then frozen at a controlled rate and stored in a BioArchive™ liquid nitrogen freezer.

The stem cells in one NCBP cord blood unit, like the one pictured above, can engraft and grow to replace a recipient's diseased bone marrow with new, healthy bone marrow cells. New approaches to treating adults may use two or more units at the same time.