FEATURE | Posted May 11, 2016

Donating Cord Blood

A lifesaving resource that doesn't have to go to waste

Umbilical cord blood collection at UC Davis Medical Center

The umbilical cord and placenta that nourish the fetus throughout a mother’s pregnancy is usually discarded as medical waste. However, thanks to a statewide program coordinated by UC Davis Health System, cord blood can be donated and stored at no cost to the donor so its treasure trove of lifesaving elements is available for the public good.

Swaddled newborn after umbilical cord is collected
Mothers are now able to donate their newborns’ umbilical cord blood and have it publicly banked at no cost.

Cord blood offers an important alternative to bone marrow for treating a host of blood diseases, including anemia, leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell disease and severe combined immunodeficiency. Stem cells in cord blood are also invaluable for research and the development of potential therapies using regenerative medicine.

Through the California Umbilical Cord Blood Collection Program, UC Davis is playing a leading role in expanding the lifesaving opportunities of otherwise-discarded cord blood units. The program is building up the inventory and diversity of publicly available cord blood units in California and beyond as part of the state’s first comprehensive public collection system.

“Due to our state’s ethnic diversity, California is an ideal place to focus on enhancing cord blood collection,” said Jon Walker, co-director of the Sacramento-based collection program. “A more varied pool increases the likelihood that members of minority groups and mixed heritage can find a match and have access to lifesaving treatments.”

Cord Blood Donation Facts
A cord blood donation through the California Umbilical Cord Blood Collection Program is easy and safe:

  • Collection procedures do not interfere with the normal birth process
  • There is no cost to participate in the collection program or to donate
  • Donating is painless and can be arranged ahead of time
  • Collections are performed after the umbilical cord is detached and placenta delivered
  • Mother’s delivery plan is not altered
  • No risk to mother or baby from collection
  • Each cord blood unit is de-identified (made anonymous) once it is stored

Cord blood donations are particularly important for ethnic minorities. African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians each make up a smaller portion of the U.S. population – meaning fewer donors are available – and they can also have a greater degree of genetic variation. Because a partial match is acceptable with cord blood, it allows more minority patients to find a suitable unit for treatment.

California’s collection program is not a cord blood bank itself. It simply collects cord blood and sends it to public banks. Mothers are now able to donate their newborns’ umbilical cord blood and have it publicly banked so it is available to anyone who needs it for a lifesaving transplantation.

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.

Additionally, the university is helping turn donated cord blood units that can’t be used in direct clinical care into versatile stem cell lines for research into a wide range of potential therapies.

We’re very thankful for all our donor mothers for their eagerness to participate in this program that’s free to families.
— Suzanne Pontow

To date the UC Davis-led effort has more than tripled the number of hospital sites statewide that collect cord blood. More than 1,200 units from the program are now listed on the National Marrow Donor Program’s public registry, and 21 have been selected for transplantation.

“Saving lives with California’s diverse cord blood units is the most effective way to measure our growing success,” said Suzanne Pontow, a UC Davis scientist who co-directs the state collection system. “We’re very thankful for all our donor mothers for their eagerness to participate in this program that’s free to families.”

To donate cord blood at a hospital near you, please call 844-734-CORD (2673) or email ucbcp@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu

Related information

Cord blood Program Facebook page

Cord blood infographic (PDF)

Cord Blood’s Promise article