Cord blood is blood contained in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. It is a popular substance because it is rich in stem cells, a very basic building block of the body. They can be used to treat some diseases because they have the potential to convert themselves into other types of cells.
Many scientists say that there is great potential in stem cells to one day treat a number of incurable conditions like diabetes and spinal cord injuries, although others say that such discoveries are unlikely. While these experiments continue, cord blood is highly valuable, since other sources of stem cells, such as frozen embryos, are increasingly controversial.
But all of the talk of the potential of stem cells from cord blood and other sources overshadows the great things that it can already do. For instance, it is commonly used in place of a bone marrow transplant in leukemia patients. The cord blood treatment is less invasive for both the donor and recipient. The recipient's body is also less likely to reject the cord blood than bone marrow because the stem cells in it haven't built up a natural resistance to foreign substances yet.
The blood is collected after the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut. A needle is inserted into the umbilical vein and the blood is extracted. It is harmless to the baby. In a few rare cases where the blood is needed by the newborn, the doctor will help the blood drain into the child's body instead of collecting it.
When cord blood is collected, there are two banking options. Parents may donate the blood to a public bank where it will be available to anyone who may need it. Parents may also save it in a private bank for future family use. While some parents will hold on to the cord blood as a precaution, others save it because they have another child or a relative with a condition they know may require it. There are proponents for both sides of this highly personal decision.