28th May is World Blood Cancer Day – cord blood can provide a cure

We look at how umbilical cord blood can help treat people with certain life-threatening diseases, including some types of cancers.

Why do we have a World Blood Cancer day?

Every 27 seconds, someone somewhere in the world is diagnosed with blood cancer. Blood
cancer refers to defects in the blood-forming system, which cause cancer cells to enter the
bloodstream and multiply uncontrollably, crowding out the healthy cells. This means the blood
can no longer perform its tasks, such as oxygen transportation and defence against germs.

Depending on the level of maturity of the blood cells in which these changes take place, doctors
distinguish between three main groups of blood cancer, each of which has many sub-types:
leukemia, multiple myeloma and malignant lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes). Blood
cancer therefore refers to various diseases of the blood-forming system.

Did you know that umbilical cord blood can be used to treat more than 80 diseases, including blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma?

Stem cell transplants with cord blood have been used to cure both children and adults with leukemia for longer than people think.

The first cord blood stem cell transplant, an international effort between physicians in the U.S. and Europe, was performed in France in 1988. Stem cells collected from a newborn’s umbilical cord blood were used to save the life of her brother, a 5-year-old with Fanconi Anemia. 

Since then, there have been more than 40,000 cord blood transplants performed worldwide. 

What makes cord blood so special?

The umbilical cord contains something very precious: hematopoietic stem cells.

Hematopoietic stem cells have the ability of forming into mature blood cells – red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, providing what your body needs to stay healthy. 

Cord blood stem cells are amazing.

They have a natural ability to:

Turn into different types of cells such as blood, tissue, nerve, and bone cells

Make copies of themselves

Replace damaged cells with healthy ones.

What Is Cord Blood Used For Today?

Cord blood has been used in transplant medicine for thirty years and can be used in the treatment of over 80 diseases including:


Acute lymphoblastic leukemia | Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma | Neuroblastoma 

Blood Disorders

Sickle-cell anemia | Cooley’s anemia | β-thalassemia intermedia 

Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes

Fanconi anemia | Diamond-Blackfan anemia | Juvenile dermatomyositis  

Metabolic Disorders

Hurler syndrome | Tay-Sachs Disease | Krabbe disease 

Immune Disorders

Severe combined immunodeficiency | DiGeorge syndrome | Reticular dysplasia

What is a cord blood transplant?

You need healthy bone marrow and blood cells to live. If you have a condition that affects your bone marrow or blood, then a stem cell transplant could be the best treatment option. For some people, a transplant offers hope of a potential cure.

A bone marrow or stem cell transplant means that doctors or nurses will put new, healthy stem cells into your bloodstream. These cells make their way to your bone marrow where they begin to grow and make healthy new blood cells.

Who can potentially use my newborn’s cord blood?

A cord blood transplant could be a suitable treatment option for:

  • a condition that means that you’re not able to make your own healthy blood cells, for example aplastic anaemia or a genetic condition affecting your blood, bone marrow or immune system
  • a condition that means that you’re not able to make your own healthy blood cells, for example aplastic anaemia or a genetic condition affecting your blood, bone marrow or immune system
  • blood cancer that is unlikely to be cured by chemotherapy alone
  • anyone needing a stem cell transplant who does not have another suitable stem cell donor.

When a patient is treated with their own cells, it is defined as an autologous transplant; if they receive cells from a donor the transplant is allogenic. 

In the UK, parents can choose to store their baby’s cord blood privately, or donate to a public bank. 

Private banking is the only way to guarantee that matching stem cells are available should your child or matched relative ever need a haematopoietic stem cell transplant. 

It is particularly important to store privately if a member of your family has a condition such as sickle cell disease, which can be cured with matching HSCs. Some families also choose to store cord blood to treat an older relative who has received a blood or immune disease diagnosis.

For other conditions however, there may be a genetic predisposition to that disease, and in these cases a patient may not be able to use his or her own stem cells. In this situation a matched sibling’s stem cells would be the first choice before looking for alternative donors.

For most families, cord blood and tissue storage is an insurance policy they hope never to use. The steady rise in life-enhancing as well as life-saving stem cell therapies, however, suggests we may all use regenerative treatments one day.

Download our brochure to find out more r call our team on 01752 753723.


Why parents should save their baby’s cord blood — and give it away, Harvard Health

Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood

Cord blood donation, NHS Cord Blood Bank

Cord blood banking – what you need to know, FDA

What is a cord blood transplant? Anthony Nolan

How umbilical cord blood can save someone’s life, Cancer

Cord blood stem cell transplantation, The Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society

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Our hope is that the information in this brochure will empower you as you weigh-up your cord blood and tissue storage options and prepare for your family’s healthy future.

Download your free guide to Biovault Family's cord blood banking!