What to Know About Donating Cord Blood
What are blood stem cells?
Blood stem cells are immature cells that give rise to the cells found in the bloodstream:
- Red blood cells for oxygen transportation
- Platelets for blood clotting
- White blood cells for fighting infections
There are three sources of blood stem cells used for transplantation: umbilical cord blood, bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells that can be collected from the blood after treatment (with stimulation factors to increase their circulation in the blood).
Are there benefits to using cord blood stem cells over other sources?
Cord blood stem cells have unique advantages over bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells:
- They are collected in advance, stored and ready for use immediately as needed, decreasing patient wait times associated with the search for a marrow or peripheral blood stem cell donor
- It is easier to match transplant patients with cord blood than with other stem cell sources because an exact match is not needed.
- Cord blood transplants are associated with a lower risk of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), which is a common serious immune-mediated side effect of transplantation
- Transplanting cord blood stem cells can also reduce the risk of transmitting viral infections such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) that can be potentially lethal for transplant recipients
What are the differences between Canadian Blood Services' Cord Blood Bank and a private bank?
- There are no charges associated with cord blood banking at Canadian Blood Services' Cord Blood Bank
- Public cord blood banking makes stem cells available to anyone who needs them
- Public cord blood donation increases the number and diversity of cord blood units available for patients (e.g., widespread donations by mothers from diverse ethnic backgrounds will expand the available pool of cord blood units in the public system, making it easier to find matches for patients who cannot otherwise find a match)
Where can I donate cord blood?
Canadian Blood Services' Cord Blood Bank currently collects cord blood donations at four hospitals:
- Ottawa — at the Ottawa Hospital General and Civic campuses
- Brampton (Greater Toronto Area) — at the William Osler Health System’s Brampton Civic Hospital
- Edmonton — at the Alberta Health Services’ Lois Hole Hospital for Women
- Vancouver — at the BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre
What is the process for donating cord blood?
- Arrive at the hospital with your signed ‘Permission to Collect’ form and tell your nurse you would like to donate your cord blood
- The cord blood will be collected in one of two ways: in utero (after your baby is delivered but before the placenta is delivered) or ex utero (by designated Canadian Blood Services personnel after both your baby and placenta are delivered)
- Following collection, the cord blood unit will be sent to one of our manufacturing facilities in Ottawa or Edmonton, where it will be processed, tested and stored in a special freezer
Can I delay the cord-clamping if I want to donate my baby’s cord blood?
Delayed cord-clamping leaves less blood in the cord and placenta and often results in lower numbers of stem cells in the collected product. However, the effect of delayed cord-clamping on cord blood stem cell collection is not known at this time. Canadian Blood Services currently collects cord blood units from all eligible donors regardless of the time of cord-clamping.
Delayed cord-clamping allows more blood to flow to the baby and may benefit preterm, low birth-weight infants by preventing anemia and improving iron stores. The potential benefit to healthy term babies is less clear. To understand whether delayed cord-clamping could help your infant, ask your healthcare provider.
Does it cost money to donate cord blood?
There is no cost to mothers who donate cord blood to Canadian Blood Services' Cord Blood Bank; all donations are made through the generosity of each individual donor.
Is cord blood tested?
Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank is required to test mothers’ blood for diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, the virus that causes AIDS), hepatitis B and C, human T-lymphotropic virus (HTVL), syphilis and West Nile Virus (WNV). We also test babies’ cord blood for markers that will match the cord blood to a patient and blood type, and to check for cytomegalovirus (CMV) and hemoglobin abnormalities such as sickle cell disease.
How long can cord blood be stored?
Cord blood stem cell donations are kept in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196 degrees Celsius and can be stored for a very long time before being used. There are examples of cord blood stem cells being transplanted after 13 years without any detected deterioration in quality.
What happens if I do not donate my baby’s cord blood?
Cord blood that is not donated to Canadian Blood Services' Cord Blood Bank is normally discarded as medical waste, unless other personal arrangements have been made.
Will I be able to reserve my baby’s cord blood for my own family’s use?
If you make a donation to Canadian Blood Services' Cord Blood Bank, your cord blood will be available to any patient in Canada or around the world who needs it; you cannot reserve it for your family. A private bank will allow you to reserve your cord blood for your family’s own use.
What is Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood for Research Program?
Canadian Blood Services has a research program in Ottawa that will provide Canadian researchers with non-bankable cord blood units for biomedical research that could lead to scientific advances and improvements in clinical and medical care. Researchers needing cord blood are asked to submit an application to the Cord Blood for Research program. Donated cord blood will be distributed to researchers for use in biomedical research only if:
- The baby’s collected cord blood is unsuitable* for banking or transplantation
- The mother has given her consent for her baby’s cord blood to be used for biomedical research
- The research project in question has been approved
*Cord blood may be unsuitable for banking if the amount collected is too small or the blood itself does not meet the specific requirements of Canadian Blood Services' Cord Blood Bank.