cord blood donation © UC Regents

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

It 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.

Cord blood is used to treat a variety of diseases, ranging from anemia and cancers of the blood such as leukemia and lymphomas to disorders such as sickle cell disease and severe combined immunodeficiency (better known as “bubble boy disease").

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. Such "prescriptions" have increased dramatically in recent years because cord blood is now considered 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 must be extracted through an often-painful procedure.
  • 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.