Cord Blood Program

Frequently Asked Questions

What is cord blood?

“Cord blood” is the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta after the birth of a baby. About 2 cups of cord blood can be collected from each placenta.

Cord blood is rich in stem cells, which are the “parent” cells of all blood cells. These cells are found in the bone marrow of adults and in the circulatory system of infants. Cord blood stem cells can be used in place of bone marrow stem cells when a matching bone marrow donor cannot be found. Once transplanted, they migrate to the bone marrow, where they begin creating healthy blood cells. This enables the recipient to reconstitute their immune system.

For reasons not completely understood, patients are less likely to reject stem cells from cord blood than stem cells from donated adult bone marrow. This may be related to the immaturity of the cord blood stem cells.

Who will be helped by the program?

Cord Blood transplants are typically used to treat blood diseases, such as leukemia and aplastic anemia. The cells are transplanted after the patient’s own stem cells have been destroyed by chemotherapy. The use of cord blood in transplantation has increased every year since the 1990s. To date, 25,000 cord blood transplants have been performed. (Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research). With over 4 million births annually nationwide, the ready availability of cord blood could increase the number of transplants used in treating or curing these illnesses.

Research is currently under way to make cord blood a suitable option for a wider range of patients, including the use of multiple cord blood units for a single recipient. Many researchers are developing ways to expand the number of stem cells in a unit of cord blood. Research being performed at the Bloodworks Northwest and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and other research centers is offering hope for adults with life-threatening diseases and disorders.

Cord blood transplantation offers hope for people in need of a match, especially patients from non-Caucasian ethnic groups. Because of the lower numbers of registered bone marrow donors of color and their genetic diversity, an African American patient, for example, may have just a 19 percent chance of finding a matching donor. A Caucasian patient may have an 75 percent chance of finding a donor. For this reason, cord blood collected from babies of non-Caucasian and mixed ethnic origins are particularly helpful.

Who can donate cord blood?

Most healthy women are qualified to donate; however, cord blood is currently only collected at participating hospitals.

A mother must consent to the donation before the birth of her child. As with any blood donation, there is a careful screening process. For cord blood, this includes a review of the mother’s medical history and risk behaviors. A blood draw from the expectant mother is also required after she has been admitted to the hospital.

Factors that may prevent you from donating include carrying more than one baby and a history of cancer or a blood disease in the baby’s immediate family. Please contact us if you have any questions about your eligibility.

How do I become a cord blood donor?

Enrollment instructions can be found on the How To Enroll page.

What if I plan to deliver at a non-participating hospital?

If a mother plans to deliver at a non-participating hospital, she may be able to donate to a cord blood bank that accepts remote collections. These banks have asked that the expectant mother be at least six weeks prior to her due date. Donations of this type are very limited due to the capacities of these cord blood banks.

What if my child is in need of a cord blood transplant in the future?

If a child’s cord blood met the criteria to be stored in our bank and has not been sent for transplant, then we are able to locate the cord blood and determine if it would be suitable for the child’s needs. However, if a child has a disease or disorder that may require a stem cell transplant, his or her cord blood may also contain the same disease. The closest match within the family would be stem cells from a child’s siblings.

Does the public have access to my personal information?

No. We protect the privacy of families by keeping all names and identifying information confidential. Upon arrival at BloodworksNW, all cord blood donations are assigned a number, which is used to identify the bag. A donor’s name is never shared with patients or transplant centers.

What is the difference between public and private cord blood banks?

Deciding what to do with a baby’s cord blood is a personal decision. Expectant mothers may choose to donate their baby’s cord blood to a public bank. If she does this, her baby’s cord blood will be available to all patients in need of a transplant. There is no cost to donors for the collection, processing, or storage of cord blood. If a baby’s cord blood is stored in a private cord blood bank, the blood is reserved specifically for family use. Private banks charge a fee for the collection and an annual fee for the storage of umbilical cord blood.

Your gift of blood, time or money saves lives.