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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?

Click here to see a helpful Side-by-Side Comparison of Cord Blood and Bone Marrow.

Click here to read this important fact sheet for patients, their families and caregivers; Cord Blood: A Solution for Bone Marrow Transplantation.

What are the advantages of cord blood?

Cord blood offers a number of advantages to donors and transplant recipients. It is easy to collect, often more likely to provide a suitable match and is stored frozen, ready to use.

1. Cord blood collection is easy and poses no medical risk to the mother or newborn baby.
Cord blood collection is a safe, simple procedure. The New York Blood Center's National Cord Blood Program staff collects cord blood from the delivered placenta, in a way that does not interfere with the care of the mother or newborn baby. Collection, therefore, poses no risk to mother or baby.

2. Cord blood is collected in advance, tested and stored frozen, ready to use.
Cord blood is donated in advance for anyone who might need it in the future. All routine testing is completed and the unit is stored frozen, ready to use. If a match is found, it can be reserved immediately. Confirmatory HLA typing and any special testing required is usually completed within 5 days. Unlike bone marrow, there is no need to take time to locate a possible volunteer and then determine whether he or she is still willing and able to donate.

3. Cord blood transplants do not require a perfect match.
Studies have shown that cord blood transplants can be performed in cases that the donor and the recipient are partially matched. In contrast, bone marrow grafts require 8/8 matching in most cases.

Because partially matched cord blood transplants can be performed, cord blood increases the patient’s chance to find a suitable donor. With cord blood, a relatively small donor pool can effectively support most patients' needs. We have estimated, for example, that a national inventory of 150,000 cord blood units would provide acceptable matches for at least 80-90% of United States patients.

4. Cord blood transplants are associated with lower incidence of GvHD.
The immune cells in cord blood seem to be less likely than those in bone marrow from unrelated donors to attack the patient's own tissues (graft vs. host disease).

5. Cord Blood Transplants are associated with lower risk of viral infections.
Cord blood is also less likely to transmit certain common viruses, like Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV), potentially lethal infections for transplant recipients. CMV is carried as a latent virus by about half of the adult U.S. population, whereas less than 1 percent of infants are born with CMV.



Stephen R. Sprague

Stephen R. Sprague was diagnosed with CML in 1995. Unable to find a matching marrow donor, he received a cord blood transplant in 1997.

A 2002 GAO Report (Possible Underutilization of the National Marrow Program) [click here to read the full report] describes the characteristics of searches, donors and conventional bone marrow transplants served by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). The GAO Report points out the problems some patients (especially ethnic minorities) have in finding matching bone marrow donors.

2002 US Government Accounting Office Report: Estimates for Bone Marrow Transplantation
The chart above summarizes the GAO's finding regarding equal access to a transplant by minority patients.

Cord blood, however, can be collected from specific hospitals serving mothers and babies that represent the ethnic diversity needed in the inventory. The high proportion of African-American patients among U.S. patients given cord blood transplants from our Program illustrates how minority patients benefit from this resource.

The chart below shows improved access to transplants for minority patients using the New York Blood Center's National Cord Blood Program.

Equal Access to a Transplant is Attainable