After a baby is born, some blood vessels remain in the mother’s placenta as well as the portion of the umbilical cord that remains attached to the placenta. This blood is collectively referred to as cord blood. After birth, the new baby does not need this blood, but it is valuable to researchers and may be valuable to patients of certain blood, immune, genetic and other diseases.
This is because cord blood contains not only white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets and plasma – but also stem cells (cells that are able to transform into any other type of human blood cell.) Cord blood stem cells are similar to those found in bone marrow and that is why the blood is so valuable. It can be used in transplants as an alternative to marrow. To date, more than 80 types of diseases have been treated by using cord blood transplants (from donors unrelated to the patients). Leukemia is the most common disease treated with cord blood transplants.
Cord blood may be stored after birth for the benefits of the donor family or for donation to research and use in the treatment of diseases of unrelated individuals.