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Many clinicians are unfamiliar with the process of umbilical cord blood storage, so it is no surprise that most risk managers know little about it. This primer on the topic was compiled from information provided by several companies specializing in storage of umbilical cord blood:
• Why is cord blood so special?
Cord blood is rich in stem cells, normally obtained from bone marrow and used to treat a number of diseases. Unlike the stem cells obtained from a bone marrow transplant, stem cells from cord blood are from the patient’s own body and are unexposed to most diseases and environmental stressors that may weaken an adult’s stem cells. When cord blood is used instead of cells from a bone marrow transplant, there is much less risk of rejection because it’s a perfect match, having come from the patient’s own body years earlier.
• How long has this practice been around?
The first recorded use of umbilical cord blood was during a procedure in 1988 in France for a patient with Fanconi’s anemia.
• What are some uses of the blood?
Cord blood can be used to treat a number of diseases, including leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, lymphoma, anemias, inherited metabolic disorders, myelodysplastic syndrome, and immune system deficiencies.
• Does everyone agree it’s a good idea?
No, not everyone. Many clinical experts doubt whether the expense and trouble of maintaining a frozen blood specimen is worthwhile because there is little chance it will ever be used. Some see umbilical cord blood storage as overly cautious.
• How is the blood collected?
Cord blood is collected immediately after birth but before the placenta is delivered. Storage companies give parents collection kits to be used by delivery staff. Staff clamp and cut the umbilical cord in the usual manner and use a sterile syringe or blood bag to draw blood from the cord.
• How is the blood transported?
The blood is packed in special shipping material provided in the storage kit. Storage companies sometimes provide pickup service, but often they tell the parents to get the blood to them any way they can, including using a courier or personally driving it to the company’s site. Most companies say cord blood must be delivered within 24 hours.
• How long can the stem cells be stored?
It is not known how long stem cells might be stored or how long they remain usable when thawed, but most experts expect they will survive long-term storage if handled properly.
• How much does the service cost?
Parents pay storage companies between $1,200 and $1,500 for collection and initial processing, then about $100 a year for storage. The hospital receives no compensation.