Umbilical Cord Blood: How long can UCB stem cells be stored?

By Michael Bardetti-Nixon BSc. LIBMS, Biovault Technical Ltd., Technical Manager / Persons Designate

If you are already considering storing your eagerly awaited baby’s cord blood, the next question is, how long for? Does it expire? Biovault offer a range of storage terms. Arrangements can always be made at the end of the term, but what’s the rational?

A little background on umbilical cord blood

While the technology has improved leaps and bounds, the idea isn’t new. The first UCB (Umbilical Cord Blood) transplant occurred back in 1988 in France, to treat a child with Fanconi Anaemia[1]. Since then, over 40,000 UCB transplants have taken place and over 5 million UCB units have been stored worldwide in both public and private banks[2].

Cryogenic preservation is a long-term game and for a technology that had its first success only 35 years ago/ This means there is still has a lot of half answered questions. Unfortunately, one of these is ‘How long do they last?’ To help, we have gone through the scientific literature for you.

The majority of UCB units transplanted are used within 5 years of being cryopreserved (frozen at a very low temperature, below -150⁰C). Most of the evidence we have examining longer storage terms look at data from the lab and experimental transplants.

This first paper[3] looks at actual transplant data and ‘real world’ outcomes (time in hospital and recovery times, as opposed to number of cells). In this particular hospital, 86 transplants of UCB were performed between 1996 and 2011. Some patients received units that were stored for more than 5 years (up to 12). When they compared ‘old’ vs ‘new’ units, no significant difference was found between the time for the blood cells to return to normal, nor was there a difference between the duration of patients hospital stays or patient survival[3].

The next paper[4] looks at UCB cells cryopreserved for 21-23.5 years. The laboratory component of this study looked at these 21-23.5yo cells being grown in a dish. This was inspected after a set time to look at size, shape and colour of the clusters of cells that grew (known as a CFU assay). These groups that form is typically given rise to by as little as a single cell that has the potential to divide and grow into multiple cell types. They managed to detect multiple different types of blood cell. This suggested that they had successfully grown from a haematopoietic stem cell that had survived being frozen for many years.

Excitingly, they could then remove the cells from that induvial dish. By doing this, they could grow more new groups of cells on a separate plate. This suggests that the cells they had stored 20+ years ago have the potential to grow into more specialised cell types over and over again. A second test looked at experimental transplantation of portion of these units. This examined how well the cells grew and divided in a new host. Evidence of a successful transplant was found and could even be transplanted from one host to the next successfully. The cord blood units used for this experiment had been in storage for 18-21 years.

This field of medicine is only beginning to evolve. With the first transplant a ‘directed donation’, in a discipline still in infancy less than 35 years ago, ‘long term’ cryopreservation is still regarded as 10 years. As you can see from the above, this definition will likely change and be extended as time goes on. We cannot guarantee that the cells in cryogenic storage will last longer than what we have data for, but current research indicates that once frozen, umbilical cord stem cells sit quite happily for prolonged periods of time, in a state closer to suspended animation.  

Biovault has two offerings for storage term currently: 25 years, as backed by the evidence above; and 50 years, in the hope we can future-proof your investment in your infant’s health. If you’re interested, you can find out more. Just download our brochure or by call our awesome sales team on 01752 753723.


  1. Ballen KK, Gluckman E, Broxmeyer HE. Umbilical cord blood transplantation: the first 25 years and beyond. Blood. 2013;122(4):491-498. doi:10.1182/blood-2013-02-453175
  2. Kim GH, Kwak J, Kim SH, et al. High Integrity and Fidelity of Long-Term Cryopreserved Umbilical Cord Blood for Transplantation. J Clin Med. 2021;10(2):293. Published 2021 Jan 14. doi:10.3390/jcm10020293
  3. Parmar S, de Lima M, Worth L, Petropoulos D, Lee D, Cooper L, Kongtim P, Alousi A, Hosing C, Popat U, Kebriaei P, McNiece I, Shpall E, Rondon G, & Champlin R, (2014). Is there an expiration date for a cord blood unit in storage?. Bone marrow transplantation, 49(8), 1109–1112.
  4. Broxmeyer HE, Lee MR, Hangoc G, et al. Hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, generation of induced pluripotent stem cells, and isolation of endothelial progenitors from 21- to 23.5-year cryopreserved cord blood. Blood. 2011;117(18):4773-4777. doi:10.1182/blood-2011-01-330514

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