Cord blood banking is standard practice in many countries but in Ireland it’s still relatively unheard of.  A lot of our mums have been asking us for information on cord blood banking, so we attended the launch of the Adult Stem Cell Foundation of Ireland and chatted to Dr Debra Higgins about her own personal experience of cord-blood banking.
So, what is cord blood banking? The term ‘cord-blood’ is used to describe blood that is drawn from the umbilical cord and the placenta after a baby is born. Up until recently this afterbirth was discarded as medical waste. Cord blood contains stem cells which may be frozen for later use in medical therapies such as stem cell transplantation or regenerative medicine.
Debra Higgins is an Irish molecular biologist and mum to Mathew who told us how it was her background in science that led to her decision to research cord-blood banking. Debra lived in Philadelphia for five years and said that in the US advertisements and information about cord-blood banking are readily available to expectant mothers. Initially it was her sister who became pregnant in 2004 and Debra encouraged her to see if the option to bank cord blood was available in Ireland.  She contacted a company called Medicare who sent her the necessary isolation kit and ultimately looked after the storage of the cord blood stem cells.  In 2007, Debra herself became pregnant, moved back to Ireland and contacted Medicare.  She was lucky enough to find an obstetrician who kindly offered to perform the procedure for her.
The procedure was as Debra described “flawlessly simple and took less than five minutes”. Her obstetrician had informed her beforehand that if there were any complications during the birth that he would not be able to perform the procedure but Debra pointed out that “he was fine and I was fine” so the procedure went ahead where the blood was isolated and extracted and her sister then arranged the sample to be sealed and couriered to the storage facility in the UK where it will be stored for the next 20 years.  There is no risk associated with cord blood extraction to either mother or child.
Debra is a firm believer that cord blood banking is a right that should be available to every Irish parent and not just a select few. She knows how privileged she was to have had the option of cord blood banking open to her because if she had chosen any other national maternity hospital (Debra had her baby in Mount Carmel hospital) she would not have been afforded the option of having her child’s stem cells stored. Currently, cord blood banking costs approximately €2,000 which covers the isolation kit, the extraction, courier and 20 years storage. Debra told us that while she hopes her son will never need to use his stem cells, cord blood banking acts like an insurance policy which should he ever need to use could be potentially life-saving. Cord blood banking is a once in a lifetime opportunity to access these cells, which are a perfect match for your child in a safe, non evasive way.
Visit the Adult stem-cell foundation of Ireland website, for more information or read our article about the newly launched foundation here