Cord blood is found inside the placenta and umbilical cord of newborn babies. This blood has traditionally been discarded at birth. However, research has shown it contains hematopoietic (blood) stem cells that can mature and produce platelets as well as red and white blood cells, all of which are essential to a healthy and fully functioning blood and immune system.
A cord blood transplant is a hematopoietic cell transplant that uses cord blood instead of bone marrow or peripheral blood as the source of blood-producing stem cells for the transplant. Cord blood cells are transplanted into a patient where they engraft and begin producing healthy blood cells. The procedure is typically preceded by a radiation or chemotherapy regimen that kills the malfunctioning or cancerous blood stem cells before replacing them with the healthy, transplanted cells.
Cord blood as a source of donor cells for transplant offers many benefits: It can be collected easily and stored for later use, it does not have to be matched to a patient’s tissue type for transplantation, and there is a lower risk of viral transmission or a serious complication known as graft-versus-host disease. Importantly, outcomes for patients undergoing a cord blood transplant have improved dramatically over the last decade. Several studies have demonstrated equivalent outcomes for cord blood transplant patients and patients receiving bone marrow or peripheral blood transplants from unrelated donors.