Cord Blood Donation–What Expectant Parents Need to Know

Cord Blood Donation in Birmingham

infant at the moment of delivery with umbilical cord attachedAt some time during your pregnancy, you will probably hear about cord blood donation. Your physicians at Sparks & Favor have prepared the following information to help our expectant families understand the potential benefits and possible consequences of these donations. We neither recommend nor discourage them. We want our patients to base their choice on the principles of informed consent. However, we do not consider the arrival at the hospital for the birth of your baby to be the ideal time to first hear about or begin considering this option.

Our practice does not receive financial compensation for your donation to a public bank. If you choose a private bank, we are compensated only for collection of cord blood.

What is cord blood?

This is blood collected from what remains in your baby’s umbilical cord after it has been clamped, cut, and is no longer connected to your baby. It is blood from the baby’s system, not the mother’s blood.

For what purposes is cord blood collected?

Cord blood contains cells that can be transplanted into another individual to treat certain cancers, immune system diseases, and blood disorders like sickle-cell disease. It is also used in clinical trials to develop new therapies for other conditions. Cord blood transplants have similar uses as bone marrow transplants. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states:

Families of all ethnicities and races should consider the societal benefit of public cord blood donation to increase the availability of matched cord blood units for people of all backgrounds.

Read more from ACOG.

Does Brookwood offer the option to donate cord blood?

LifeCord (a program run by LifeSouth Community Blood Banks Inc.) provides cord blood collection and public banking services for Brookwood patients. Patients can individually contract with private cord blood banking companies.

Will my donation help my child or another member if my family who develops one of these illnesses?

LifeCord is considered a public bank. Your donation cannot be directed to a specific individual. Private cord blood banks charge an initiation fee and a maintenance fee (usually annual) to preserve donated cord blood for use as the donor directs. This is rarely helpful because an infant’s cord blood cannot be used to treat genetic illnesses that child may develop since the child’s blood cells carry the same genetic defect that caused the disease. It also cannot be used to treat a cancer that child may develop. Very rarely, privately banked blood may help a sibling of the donor child, but this is unusual.

Does anyone else gain from my donation?

If your cord blood donation contains too few stem cells to be used for cancer treatment, blood disorders, or immune disorders, it can be distributed for research or other purposes. LifeCord’s consent document informs donors that donations not suitable for patients to receive may be used for other purposes. If the cord blood is not used for transplant, we have no information about the list of possible clients that may receive cord blood units for other purposes from either public or private donation. Neither can we provide a description of the possible end-uses of the donation you provide.

The controversy over regenerative medicine:

Although stem cells from cord blood can be a valuable resource for treatment of cancer, blood, and immune diseases; their use for less proven therapies has created controversy. The Food and Drug Administration acknowledges that stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine offer the possibility of new medical treatments in coming years. But the FDA has struggled to keep up in its duty to protect the public. So-called regenerative medicine clinics have flourished, marketing “stem cell” treatments. The FDA warns:

In such an environment a select few, often motivated by greed without regard to responsible patient care, are able to promote unproven, clearly illegal, and often expensive treatments that offer little hope, and, even worse, may pose significant risks to the health and safety of vulnerable patients. These so-called treatments run afoul of the FDA’s legal and regulatory framework governing this new field.

Again, we do not know whether an individual private or public bank distributes cord blood for regenerative therapies.

Giving Informed Consent for Cord Blood Donation

  • First, we hope that expectant mothers are unmedicated and not already in labor when deciding whether to sign the consent form. While in labor your focus should not be distracted from your own needs. If you are considering a donation, we hope you will review the informed consent documents before you come to the hospital. A lengthy consent questionnaire may be an unnecessary stress. Once you have signed the written consent form, you no longer have ownership of the cord blood.
  • You will be asked to provide a detailed health history. It includes the health and genetic history of both mother and father, the mother’s social history including questions about sexual or other behavioral risk factors, and other personal identifying information (PII) which may include the mother’s social security number. The company may access your medical records for this pregnancy and your baby’s medical records. You can review LifeCord’s forms at https://www.lifecord.org/donate/forms/. Your history and personal identifying information are kept on file. Some of this information may be shared with the transplant center or other organization that uses the tissue. We have no knowledge of the end-user’s privacy practices. No patient who receives your donation will receive your personal identifying information, nor will you receive information about an individual who receives a tissue transplant. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) controls how your private information is protected and with whom it can be shared. We (Sparks & Favor) are not responsible for the security of health information you have shared with a third party.
  • An extra blood sample (not usually an extra needle stick) will be drawn with your admission bloodwork to test for conditions that determine whether your donation can be used. If this test or the later processing of your donated tissue identifies a health condition affecting mother or baby, the company that receives your donation has the responsibility to inform you of such results. It is possible that such a test will identify a genetic or other problem that would not otherwise have been known. We (Sparks & Favor) are not responsible for notifying you of these results. Early awareness of a treatable health problem is beneficial. However, some have expressed concern about advance knowledge of genetic conditions for which no medical cure is available. Such knowledge may have emotional as well as practical consequences. HIPAA prohibits sharing of your personal information with third parties you have not authorized to receive it. Nonetheless, some individuals have expressed concern that knowledge of a genetic risk could affect their ability to truthfully apply for future insurance coverage (ex. life or disability insurance). Before you give your written consent for donation, you should consider whether you would want to know this information.
  • Certain conditions—for example, sexually transmitted diseases—must be reported directly to state health officials.

We realize that this is a large amount of information, and some of the medical issues may be confusing. We are happy to answer your questions about cord blood donation.