One of the newest items of interest in obstetrics is umbilical cord blood retrieval at the birth of a child. It can be collected very easily from the umbilical cord that remains attached to the placenta (afterbirth) after the cord has been cut and the baby no longer connected. Long considered a waste by-product of the whole pregnancy and delivery process, interest in this "waste" began to rise when cancer specialists, called oncologists, partnered with immunological and transplant doctors in claiming that the blood from a baby's umbilical cord at birth, if stored properly, could be used as a bone marrow transplant if the baby (or a family member) were to have enough radiation for a cancer that would also destroy the bone marrow.
The bone marrow is where all of the blood elements are made. From it are made red blood cells (oxygen-carrying cells), white blood cells (infection-fighting cells), and platelets (clotting elements). The blood of the umbilical cord at birth contains what are called "stem" cells, because these cells can transform into any of the three types of blood cells mentioned above.
When an infant is born, his or her blood is quite different from the blood of an adult. There is a different type of hemoglobin altogether, which is gradually replaced during the first year with the adult blood type. And there is a much greater concentration of stem cells. Therefore, tapping this source will yield a very rich collection for storage.
Today, when someone's bone marrow has been destroyed by the life-saving therapy used to fight tumors and leukemias, the cure can be as dangerous as the illness. The race is then on to find a donor so that replacement bone marrow can be provided. It's not just as simple as finding someone willing to be generous by submitting to a bone marrow retrieval. There must also be a matching of six different factors between the donor and the recipient. The fewer factors in common, the more likelihood that the recipient will "reject" the donor's bone marrow.
But umbilical cord blood, if stored and then used for a family member later, ups the score on these six factors. This is common knowledge, because most people know that a blood relative has a better chance of having a donor organ "take" than a stranger. Of course, if the very baby that had the cord blood saved were to use the stored blood after cancer treatment, now you would be talking about a perfect match!
This has become such an exciting development in the normally two unrelated fields of obstetrics and donor/recipient graft rejection that a whole new industry has sprung up to provide this service.
Is this storage a type of insurance for cancer? Really now, ask the critics, what are the chances? If you took even the dollar amount a year over several years and compared (via apples and oranges method) the cost to the chances of actually needing the cord blood, the financial risk may not match the medical benefit. Or so they say.