How cord blood saves lives
What is cord blood?
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after you give birth. It’s full of stem cells (the body’s powerful primary cells) which can turn into other types of cell, like muscle, skin and blood cells.
Why is cord blood particularly useful?
Cord blood contains haematopoietic stem cells. For someone with blood cancer or a blood disorder, a transplant of these can repair their damaged blood cells and save their life.
Cord blood transplants have lots of advantages, including being readily available. With an adult donor found on our stem cell register, it can take a long time to run tests and organise the donation.
Another benefit is that donors and patients don’t need to be an exact match, as the stem cells in cord blood aren’t mature and can develop to suit their recipient. Cord blood can be a great option for people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, who it can be harder to find a match for on the stem cell register.
How much cord blood do you collect?
We’re aiming to grow our cord blood bank to 10,000 cord blood units by 2021. A bank this size would mean 80% of people who need transplants could find a match. At the moment, only half get the match they so desperately need.
What diseases can cord blood treat?
Life-threatening conditions, including:
• immune-deficiency illnesses, like aplastic anaemia and severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID)
• blood cell production disorders, such as multiple myeloma and lymphoma
• haematological malignancies, like thalassemia major
• congenital metabolic disorders, like Hurler/Hunter syndrome and Duncan’s syndrome.
Where we collect cord blood
Where can I donate my cord blood?
We are currently set up to collect cord blood at five hospitals in Manchester, London and Leicester:
- King's College Hospital (London)
- Saint Mary's Hospital, Oxford Road (Manchester)
- Saint Mary's Hospital, Wythenshawe (Manchester)
- Leicester Royal Infirmary
- Leicester General Hospital
You can only donate your baby’s cord blood if you’re booked for antenatal care at one of these hospitals.
You can donate at another five London hospitals via NHS Blood & Transplant.
Why don’t you collect cord blood at more hospitals?
It costs thousands of pounds to establish a new cord blood centre, so we need to focus our funding in the most effective way. We know that lots of babies are born at these four hospitals every year, and that these areas have a diverse population. We need to make sure our cord blood bank is as ethnically diverse as possible, so more people have more chances of finding a lifesaving match.
Eligibility to donate
Am I eligible to donate my cord blood?
Most mothers are able to donate their baby’s cord blood if they’re giving birth in one of the four collection hospitals. However, some lifestyle and medical factors may rule you out so check you’re eligible.
Can I donate if I have a caesarean section?
Yes. We can normally collect your cord blood whether you have an elective or emergency caesarean.
I am expecting twins. Can I donate?
Yes, you can.
Can I donate if I choose to have delayed cord clamping as part of my birth plan?
Yes, you can still donate. Anthony Nolan supports NICE guidance not to have the cord clamped earlier than one minute after birth if all is well with the baby. Our collectors will work around your birth plan and provide further evidence-based information as needed to help you make an informed decision. Donating does not affect your birth plan in any way.
Donating and my birth plan
How is my cord blood collected?
Take a look at the How can I donate my umbilical cord? page.
Will donating cord blood harm me or my baby?
Absolutely not. Donating cord blood is risk-free.
After you’ve safely delivered your baby and placenta, we’ll come in and take your cord and placenta to a separate room to extract the blood.
Can you guarantee that you will collect and bank my cord blood?
We have a finite number of people who can collect cord blood. In the unlikely situation that there are multiple births (from mums who have opted to donate) at the same time, we sometimes can’t collect from all of them. Any cord blood has to be collected immediately to be effective.
If this happens, your umbilical cord and placenta will be disposed of using standard NHS maternity procedures.
Other reasons we might not collect and bank your cord blood:
- there isn’t enough blood in your placenta and cord to collect
- your temperature has risen and you have an infection
- there’s a mechanical failure with the equipment used
- other medical issues
If you do collect my cord blood, will you definitely bank it?
We can’t guarantee that we’ll bank your baby’s cord blood. We may not bank it if it does not contain enough stem cells to be considered suitable for transplantation. We will test your baby's cord to check the number of stem cells before banking it.
What happens next?
What happens to my baby’s cord blood after you've collected it?
We’ll visit before you leave hospital to take a small blood sample from you (not your baby).
We’ll also take you through the full consent form if you didn’t sign it before the birth, and ask some routine medical history questions.
Within 30 hours, a courier will take your baby’s cord blood to our cord blood bank, the Anthony Nolan Cell Therapy Centre in Nottingham. We’ll test it to see if it has enough stem cells to use for a transplant and, if it does, we’ll freeze and store it until someone needs it.
If it doesn’t, we’ll either dispose of it using standard medical procedures or use it in vital research.
What research will you carry out with my baby’s cord blood?
Cord blood and tissue collected that don’t meet the clinical threshold for transplant can be used for research. Cord blood contains haematopoietic stem cells which can differentiate into white and red blood cells. Cord tissue (the actual umbilical cord) contains mesenchymal stem cells. These stem cells differentiate into many different cell types such as osteoblasts (bone cells) and myocytes (muscle cells).
We use cord blood and tissue to isolate different cells. Research into each cell type will further our understanding into many different research areas. For example, we’re using cord blood to isolate haematopoietic stem cells, which can be analysed in different environments to further our understanding of cell therapies.
In the near future, we’ll be isolating mesenchymal stem cells from cord tissue. Mesenchymal stem cells differentiate into many other cells, depending on their environment. So, from one lot of mesenchymal stem cells, we can produce many different cell types – this means research into many different areas, not only blood cancers and blood disorders!
What tests will you do on the blood samples you take from me in hospital?
We’ll test for any diseases or infections, so we can make sure your baby’s cord blood is safe to use for a transplant. This includes tests for HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis and HTLV. We may test for malaria, depending on your travel history. We’ll also do a DNA analysis to obtain your tissue type (HLA). This is how we’ll match your cord blood to someone in need of a lifesaving transplant.
If you test positive for anything, we’ll pass the information to your doctor who will advise you on any treatment.
What tests do you do on my baby’s cord blood?
As well as the above tests, we'll do virology and bacteriology tests. These tests will look for any dangerous viruses or bacteria, to make sure it’s safe for a transplant. We also check for genetic conditions (duplicating the neonatal screening tests) and do haematology tests to see how many stem cells there are in your baby’s cord blood.
Storing and using your baby's cord blood
How long will your store my baby’s cord blood for?
We’ll store it until someone needs it for a transplant (or for research, if there aren’t enough stem cells to use for a transplant). We can store cord blood indefinitely, frozen in cryogenic tanks at temperatures of around -190°C.
When would you use my baby’s cord blood for research?
Your baby’s cord blood may be used for research when it didn’t contain enough stem cells to use for a transplant. Your umbilical cord itself might also be used for research. We would only use your baby’s cord blood in ethically approved research if you had consented for this use on your formal consent form.
Would my baby’s cord blood be available for my own family if we need it in the future?
We don’t store cord blood for private use. In the unlikely event that someone in your family needs a cord blood donation in the future, their doctors would search public registers.
Will my baby’s cord blood be available outside the UK?
Yes. Your donation could provide a stem cell transplant for someone in need anywhere in the world.
Public vs. Private cord banking
What’s the difference between public and private cord blood banking?
We run our cord blood bank as a public bank to help anyone who needs a stem cell transplant. It doesn’t cost you anything to donate your baby’s cord blood to our programme.
Commercial cord blood banks charge to collect and store your baby’s cord blood for private family use. If you want to use one of these companies, you need to contact them directly. The Human Tissue Authority’s guide for parents gives further information about what to consider when thinking about private cord blood banking.
Does it cost me any money to donate?
No, there is no cost to you to donate your baby’s cord blood to our public bank.
Do I get paid?
No, we don’t pay mothers to donate their baby’s cord blood.
Data protection and legal information
Who can legally collect (procure) cord blood and what are the consequences of unlawful procurement?
In the UK, procurement of human tissues and cells which may be used for treatment (including cord blood) must occur on Human Tissue Authority (HTA)-licensed premises or under a third-party agreement (TPA).
In the latter case:
• The individual doing the collection must be procuring cord blood on behalf of an HTA-licensed establishment; and the TPA must meet the requirements set out in the HTA’s Guide to quality and safety assurance of human tissues and cells for patient treatments
• The individual doing the collection must be a healthcare professional who has (a) completed training to the approval of the Designated Individual named on a cord blood establishment’s HTA licence, and (b) has entered into an individual TPA with a HTA-licensed cord blood establishment; or by a healthcare professional who has (a) completed training to the approval of the Designated Individual named on a cord blood establishment’s HTA licence, and (b) is working for a hospital who holds a TPA with a HTA-licensed establishment.
Training ensures that the person collecting the cord blood is competent to undertake cord blood collection. Training will ensure that the risk of physical harm to the mother and child during the cord blood collection is minimised; and, that processes are followed to reduce the possibility of the cord blood being contaminated during collection.
The patient’s partner may only collect cord blood if they themselves are a registered healthcare professional who has been specifically trained in cord blood collection.
Procurement that does not meet the conditions laid out above is unlawful and can result in action being taken against both the individual and hospital by the HTA under Human Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) Regulations 2007.
Anthony Nolan only uses specifically-trained midwives and dedicated collectors to collect cord blood from donating mothers.
Can my baby be cloned using my donation?
No. The Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 prohibits any attempt to create a child by reproductive cloning.
If I donate my baby’s cord blood, will my or my baby’s name be on the Anthony Nolan register?
No. Only the number given to the cord blood unit at the hospital is used – no name or personal data is ever associated with it. This number is used to identify it on the registry and at the public cord blood bank.
Is my personal information, including my test results, kept confidential?
Yes. All personal data shall be held and processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act (2018) and the General Data Protection Regulation ((EU) 2016/679) and we only collect data that is required for the purposes of the cord blood programme. If suitable for transplant the cord blood and donor eligibility details will be listed on national and international registries. We require your permission to review your maternity records to gather demographic and health data. You have a right to see your own health records and correct information held about you.
How is our family’s privacy protected after the umbilical cord blood unit is used for a transplant?
We always keep the mother’s name confidential and protect you and your family’s privacy. Names are never shared with any patient or transplant centre.
As the cord blood unit is identified only by number, you and the transplant patient will also not be able to exchange any personal information.
Where can I get more information?
The Human Tissue Authority (HTA) has information on cord blood collection for parents on their website.