It contains – or more precisely, the blood it contains – valuable stem cells, similar to bone marrow cells. These stem cells can develop into different types of blood cells.

This means: You can help children and adults with leukemia – that is, blood cancer – or other diseases of the hematopoietic system.

Parents can donate cord blood or store it. Here’s a quick overview of the most important issues:

How exactly can cord blood be stored and used after birth?

There are two options: autologous storage and allogeneic cord blood donation.

Autologous means: the cord blood is saved for the baby itself. The idea behind this is that if an offspring develops a disease such as leukemia, a suitable donor stem cell becomes immediately available.

So-called targeted donation is also possible: saved cord blood is used for a sick brother or sister.

Automatic storage is available from various suppliers. Parents must bear the costs themselves – depending on the offer they range from 1000 to 3000 euros for 18 years of storage. The child can then decide whether to continue the contract. If you choose to do this, the costs will continue.

During allogeneic donation, cord blood is collected and stored in a government bank. It is then available to patients around the world, but is not intended for the child from whom it is obtained. The donation is free for parents.

What are the benefits of keeping or donating?

Autologous storage, that is, something that is intended to benefit the child himself, is not necessarily useful in the case of leukemia.

This is the assessment of Ioannis Mytileneos, medical director of the German Central Register of Bone Marrow Donors (ZKRD). It has been proven that your own cells cannot fight blood cancer as well as cells received from a third-party donor.

This is also useful to know, especially if storage will continue into adulthood: “Umbilical cord blood contains only a limited number of stem cells, which is usually not enough for adults,” says the doctor. “But I don’t want to rule out the possibility that cells could help in the future.”

And one more thing: Purposeful cord blood donation, for example for siblings, is very rare, says Professor Gesine Kögler. She heads the José Carreras Stem Cell Bank at the University Hospital of Düsseldorf. “In about 25 percent of cases, siblings are suitable donors.”

Allogeneic cord blood donation is available worldwide. Gesine Kögler emphasizes: “Unused cord blood is recognized as a cure for more than 70 hematological diseases.” The same applies to diseases that affect the hematopoietic system, such as leukemia, genetic diseases or sickle cell anemia.

Adults are also treated with stem cells from donated umbilical cord blood for 10–15 years; then two suitable drugs are used to ensure that the number of stem cells is sufficient.

What do parents need to know before donating?

If expectant parents wish to donate cord blood, they should be advised prior to delivery. Because donation cannot be accepted in all maternity hospitals. Lists of blood collection clinics can be found at cord blood banks. An overview of this can be found on the ZKRD website.

Your midwife or gynecologist will usually also have information on this topic.

In some cases, donation is not possible. For example, if the mother was under 18 years old at the time of birth, if complications arose during pregnancy, or if the mother or father has certain diseases.

How exactly do deletion and storage work?

After birth, blood is taken through a puncture of the umbilical vein and collected in a special container. The blood is transported to an umbilical cord bank and processed there to separate the components. The cell concentrate is mixed with a preservative solution and frozen.

The importance of cord blood donation in this country is not that great, Mytileneos explains. “This is because we have many registered and reliable stem cell donors.”

In principle, cord blood products have the advantage that they are quickly available. I: They are especially needed abroad by people in need. That’s why Mytilene says: “Every donation counts.”
© dpa

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