Umbilical Cord Blood Banking On The Rise In UK – Here's What You Need To Know

Would you pay thousands of pounds to store your baby's stem cells?

The number of new parents banking their baby’s umbilical cord blood has risen dramatically in the space of four years, according to new figures.

Some 27,028 blood and tissue units were banked privately in 2018 compared with 16,965 units in 2014, a FOI (freedom of information) request by the BBC found.

Cord blood, which comes from the placenta and umbilical cord following the birth of a baby, is rich in blood stem cells, similar to those found in bone marrow.

This means it can potentially be used to treat different cancers, as well as immune deficiencies and genetic disorders. Clinical trials are taking place across the world to find out more about how stem cells can help treat different illnesses.

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Why Do Parents Store Cord Blood?

Figures suggest an increasing number of UK parents are choosing to have blood collected from their baby’s umbilical cord and placenta, and storing it privately for future use.

This is because it could provide the perfect match if your child needs a form of stem cell treatment in the future. The blood might also provide a perfect match for a sibling and can provide a partial match for parents, if they need treatment.

What Does The Process Entail?

The blood will be taken immediately after the baby’s birth, once the cord has been cut and after the placenta has been delivered. If you are storing it privately, the blood should be taken by a trained phlebotomist, midwife or doctor operating under the authority of a HTA (Human Tissue Authority) licence. The licence covers the premises where the activity takes place, rather than an individual.

The collection area and cord will be cleaned prior to the blood being collected. The process involves inserting a blood bag needle into the umbilical vein and taking the blood. Once there is no blood left to drain, the bag is sealed. The sample is then labelled and sent to storage for future use.

Blood is stored using cryopreservation, where it is frozen and stored at low temperatures. The length of time it can be stored for successfully is not fully known. However, experts believe that under the best storage conditions, it might be possible to preserve the cells for decades.

How Much Does It Cost?

The cost of privately storing your baby’s cord blood is high. Prices vary depending on the process and service you choose, as well as the company. It can cost in the region of £2,000 for 20 years of storage, according to the HTA.

You can also opt to donate your baby’s cord blood to a public bank, which doesn’t cost a penny. The blood won’t necessarily be available to you exclusively if you need it, as there’s a chance it could be used by another family, however one thing’s for sure – it could help save lives.

There are two public cord blood banks in the UK: the Anthony Nolan Cord Blood Bank and the NHS Cord Blood Bank.

If you don’t opt for either private or public blood banking, your babies’ cord and placenta will simply be thrown away, along with the blood. This is routine hospital practice in the UK.

Update: This article was updated to clarify that a HTA (Human Tissue Authority) licence covers the premises where the blood extraction takes place, rather than an individual.