Who Can Use My Baby’s Cord Blood?
The cord blood collected during your child's birth will be their perfect match of stem cells. Cord blood can also provide life saving cells to other members of your family who are an HLA type match. In fact, cord blood offers a one in four chance of being a genetic match to siblings born to the same parents.
What is HLA typing and why does it matter?
When a person is healthy, stem cells replenish their blood and immune cells. If that blood system is stressed or damaged due to disease or life-saving treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy, new stem cells are needed to rebuild these blood and immune cells. Preserved cord blood stem cells can be used to rebuild this blood system.
Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing is used to match patients and donors for both cord blood and bone marrow transplants. HLA's are markers found on most cells in the human body. These markers allow your immune system to determine which cells belong in your body and which do not.
If you think of HLA type like a sports uniform, the HLA markers let your immune system know which team each cell is on. Cells of the same HLA type are safe and start to make new blood cells. Cells of a different type will be rejected (attacked) by the body's immune system. It is also possible that these transplanted cells can attack the body of the person they are transplanted into. This is commonly referred to as graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and can be fatal.
Therefore, in the event of an allogenic transplant (a transplant from one person to another), a simple blood test will be used to determine HLA type. A close match in the HLA markers of the donor and recipient reduces the risk of rejection and GVHD.
What is the advantage of cord blood?
Bone marrow can also provide life saving stem cells, and compatibility in allogenic transplants is determined in the same way as cord blood through HLA typing. However, it is much more difficult to match bone marrow than it is to match cord blood. The National Marrow Donor Program requires that there is a match of at least 5 of the 6 HLA markers. For cord blood, the criterion is less strict; only 4 out of 6 markers must match.