How Is Your Baby’s Cord Blood Processed and Stored?

Your baby’s umbilical cord, the lifeline between the mother and the baby, contains cord blood, which is known to be rich in stem cells. This is one of the reasons that expectant parents consider saving their baby’s umbilical cord after the delivery. Stem cells, which are immature and unspecialised, have the ability to assume the form of various other kinds of cells, making them central to the treatment of several diseases and disorders. Most of the potential of stem cells is yet to be unlocked, so saving them might provide an extra assurance that your family’s health is protected in the future.

Stem cell transplants, especially with hematopoietic stem cells found in your baby’s cord blood, are an FDA-approved form of treatment for over 80 disorders of the blood and immune system, leukemia and lymphomas and certain inherited illnesses. Stem cells are also being studied for their use in brain cell transplants, treatment of neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, heart attacks and more.

So how does all this work? You may know a bit about the benefits of banking your baby’s stem cells, but do you know how the process works? We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to sum it up for you, so you know what’s happening all along the way.

Step-1 - Collection: What to Expect?

Umbilical cord blood banking is a safe and painless way to harvest stem cells. It is performed after the birth, before the placenta is delivered. Shortly after birth, in a routine delivery, your OB-GYN will clamp and cut the umbilical cord.

Should you choose to bank your baby’s cord blood, your doctor will follow a similar process, but will clamp the cord in two places. Then, a needle will be inserted to draw about 40 ml of cord blood. This cord blood will then be sealed in a bag to be sent to your stem cell bank.

Step 2 - Transit

Once your cord blood is collected by your doctor, it has to be sealed and wrapped. Usually, a collection kit is given to parents who have registered with a stem cell bank. The cord blood will be placed in this collection kit to ensure its safety during transit from the hospital to the stem cell bank’s laboratory. Some things are important to note here:

  • The collection kit should be strong and vacuum sealed to avoid leakages
  • Your stem cell bank should transport the blood sample in a temperature-controlled environment to maintain quality of the sample.

Usually, your stem cell banking service will handle transit of cord blood for you, so keep your doctors and the bank in the loop.

Step 3 - Testing

Upon arrival at the lab, the cord blood sample is usually tested and then processed to separate stem cells from the blood. This helps the bank match and retrieve the cells more easily when they are needed.

Usually, stem cell banks will conduct the following tests on the cord blood sample:

  • Blood grouping and Rh typing
  • Stem cell viability
  • Total mononuclear and nucleated cell count
  • Infectious diseases like Hepatitis, HIV, Syphilis, Malaria,etc
  • Sterility tests
  • HLA matching

Since cord blood is used for transplants, it is important to test it to ensure that it matches the patient’s body and is in a viable condition.

Step 4 - Processing

Once cord blood is tested, it has to be processed. Processing includes the separation of stem cells from blood cells. The blood is passed through a machine which separates stem cells from blood cells.

At LifeCell, Prepacyte-CB technology is used to process cord blood units. It helps extract the maximum viable stem cells from the sample, while reducing the Red Blood Cell (RBC) contamination by upto 99%.

The cord blood is usually processed within 48 to 72 hours after birth to ensure maximum viability of stem cells.

Step 5 - Storage

Finally, the processed cord blood unit is prepared for cryopreservation. It is wrapped and sealed in cryo-bags, which are then frozen and transferred to cryo-vessels. The cells are frozen under -196℃ and preserved, so you or your little one could access them if and when you need to use them.

How Long Can Cord Blood Be Stored?

Stem cell banking as a Science is around 20-30 years old, so we are yet to see how long stem cells can be stored. The good news is that the oldest existing sample has been successfully stored for 22 and a half years now!

By choosing a stem cell bank that ensures the right conditions of transit and storage, you can store your little one’s stem cells for the future as a form of extra-assurance!

What Else Should You Keep in Mind?

Despite the easy and simple collection and the great benefits of stem cell banking, there are some things you need to keep in mind.

  • The decision to bank your baby’s cells needs to be made with sufficient time left for delivery - this gives you enough time to choose a bank and inform your doctor.
  • Talk to your OB-GYN and/or midwife about your decision well before delivery. They will then be prepared to collect cord blood at the time of birth.
  • Your family’s medical history matters! Speak to your doctor about it to help you make your decision on whether or not to bank your baby’s cord blood stem cells.
  • Despite the benefits, there is a very low chance of using your stem cells. Stem cells are not a form of insurance, but are more of an additional assurance.
  • In case of complicated deliveries like multiple births, premature births or other complications, the Indian Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend cord blood banking.

Finally, consider donating your baby’s cord blood to a public bank if you do not opt to preserve them at a family or community stem cell bank. This will ensure that a patient in need of the cells can benefit from your donation.

Now that you know quite a bit about how your baby’s stem cells are preserved and why you should consider banking them, the decision is up to you. Think about what feels right to you. Does the extra assurance help? Do you like having that extra assurance? Do you see risks for certain illnesses in your family where stem cells could help greatly? Your decision will finally be a combination of multiple factors, but we know you’ll make the right one for your family’s health and happiness!