How cord blood saves lives
What is cord blood?
It’s the blood left in the placenta and umbilical cord after a woman has given birth.
Cord blood contains lots of stem cells, which can be used in lifesaving transplants and/or cell therapy for people with blood cancers & disorders.
Anthony Nolan collects cord blood in five hospitals in London, Manchester, Leicester. Collection only happens after the birth, when the baby is safely delivered. It’s totally risk-free for mothers and newborns.
Why is cord blood particularly useful?
But cord blood transplants have lots of advantages.
Getting adult donations is a long process. If we find someone a match on our register, we have to do more tests on the potential donor, and it takes time to organise the donation and transplant.
Cord blood is banked in our cell therapy centre in Nottingham and is available immediately, for people in desperate need.
Also, donors and recipients don’t need to be an exact match, as the stem cells in cord blood aren’t so mature and can develop to suit their recipient. That means it’s easier to find matches. To find out more about cord please visit this site.
How much cord blood do you collect?
We’re aiming to grow our cord blood bank to 10,000 searchable cord blood units by 2022. 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 cord blood?
We’re set up to collect cord blood at five hospitals in Manchester, London, and Leicester. You can only donate your cord blood if you’re booked for antenatal care at one of these hospitals.
- 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 donate at another three London hospitals via the NHS Cord Blood Bank.
Why don’t you collect cord blood at more hospitals?
We don’t get any direct government funding, so we can only fund collection at a limited number of hospitals.
We chose the five hospitals in Manchester, London and Leicester because they have high birth rates, and are in ethnically diverse areas. That way we can collect a wide variety of tissue types and help a wide variety of people.
Eligibility to donate
Am I eligible to donate my baby's cord blood?
Most mothers can donate their baby's cord blood. But there are some medical conditions and lifestyle factors which mean you can’t.
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 cord blood for research?
We only use cord blood in ethically approved research if it doesn’t contain enough stem cells to use for a transplant.
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 private and public cord blood banking?
We run our cord blood bank as a public bank to help anyone around the world who needs a stem cell transplant. It doesn’t cost anything to donate cord blood to our programme.
Commercial cord blood banks charge to collect and store babies’ cord blood for private family use.
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 babies be cloned using cord blood?
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.