Cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby is born.

Cord blood is an important alternative to bone marrow for transplantation because it contains all the natural elements of blood and is rich in blood-forming stem cells, which are similar to those found in bone marrow but do not require as close a match between the donor and recipient.

As explained in greater detail below, cord blood extends access to stem cell transplants for patients without a well-matched bone marrow or stem cell donor. Patients without an available donor are more often of minority race or ethnicity. Cord blood donations often help someone with ancestry that is similar to the donor’s background.

Watch Videovideo iconCord Blood awareness interview
Skip ahead to the 7:30 mark to watch an interview with author Miguel Sancho.

Mothers are now able to donate their newborns' umbilical cord blood and have it publicly banked so it is available to anyone for lifesaving transplantations. Cord blood is a treatment for the same conditions indicated for bone marrow transplantation, but with several advantages:

  • cord blood collection involves no risk or trauma to the donor, while bone marrow and  peripheral blood stem cell collections can be invasive and painful.
  • an exact match is less critical with cord blood because the newborn's immune system is less developed, reducing the likelihood that it will react against the recipient
  • cord blood can be frozen and stored for years — even decades — so it can quickly be distributed "off the shelf" when a need arises.

Besides direct use in clinical treatments, researchers in regenerative medicine say umbilical cord blood also holds promise as an important source of stem cells that could be used for potential medical therapies and treatments.

Importance of donating

Couple with new baby

Cord blood donations are particularly important for ethnic minorities due to a number of factors. Because a partial match is acceptable with cord blood, it allows more minority patients to find a suitable unit for treatment. In addition, African-Americans are more likely than others to suffer from sickle cell disease which can now benefit from cord blood transplants.

Due to our ethnic diversity, California is an ideal place to focus on enhancing cord blood collection. A more varied pool increases the likelihood that members of minority groups and mixed heritage can find a match and have access to life-saving treatments.

Couple with baby

In general, minorities are more likely to find a suitable match from donors within their own ethnic groups.