Donating the umbilical cord: a gesture that can save a life

Donating the umbilical cord: a gesture that can save a life
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Donating the umbilical cord and the blood in it is a gesture that can really make a difference in someone's life. This is the case of little Matthew, the 5-year-old American child, suffering from Fanconi's anemia, who received the very first cord blood transplant in the world in 1988. The surgery was a success, and still today the use of the blood contained in the umbilical cord saves life to thousands of people suffering from diseases such as leukemia, lymphomas and some types of thalassemia.

If you are about to become a parent, in this article you will find useful information to make an informed choice about what to do with your baby's cord blood.

In this article

  • donate the cord
  • how cord blood is collected
  • the types of donation
  • the procedure for the donation
  • when you cannot donate

Why is it important to donate the umbilical cord?

The collection and storage of umbilical cord blood at birth is becoming an increasingly common practice. The reason? The cells contained in the blood of the umbilical cord have a therapeutic value for the treatment of blood diseases, malignant and non-malignant, and immune disorders.

More precisely, umbilical cord blood contains all the typical elements of blood - therefore red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma - but it is also rich in hematopoietic stem cells, similar to those present in the bone marrow, which have a very important feature: are pluripotent or "totipotent", that is, they can adapt to different purposes.

Umbilical cord blood is therefore an invaluable resource for the care of severe pathologies blood and immune system, including:

  • leukemia;
  • lymphomas;
  • some forms of thalassemia;
  • some types of immunodeficiency;
  • some metabolic diseases.

When the cord blood does not contain a sufficient number of stem cells and therefore cannot be used for transplantation, then it can be stored and used for research purposes. The aim is to deepen the study of stem cell functions, identify the cause of serious diseases and promote the development of new drugs for their treatment.

Read also: Umbilical cord and cord blood: everything you need to know

How umbilical cord blood is obtained

When the baby was born, the umbilical cord is clamped. At this point, cord blood can be collected both before and after delivery of the placenta. The cord blood comes collected in a sterile bag, which is called the "cord blood unit". In order to collect enough cells for a transplant, an adequate volume of blood must be collected.

If, on the other hand, the cord blood is not collected for storage, it will be thrown away and disposed of like the rest of organic products.

Read also: The umbilical cord

The different types of donation

There are three different types of umbilical cord blood donation.


It is the solidarity donation and allows donating the baby's umbilical cord to anyone who needs it and is compatible. Donation data is collected in a national cord blood registry which is linked to all international bone marrow donor registries. In this way, anyone who needs a hematopoietic stem cell transplant can find a potential compatible donor on the other side of the world as well.
Are approximately 13.000 worldwide patients who need a hematopoietic stem cell transplant every year. About one fifth of these patients are currently being treated with cord blood.

The allogeneic donation falls under the Essential Levels of Assistance (LEA) and is therefore free.


It is a type of donation dedicated to:

  • un consanguineous of the newborn if it is affected by diseases that can be cured thanks to the stem cells of the cord;
  • il neonate same that has treatable pathologies with stem cells at the time of birth or that have been highlighted in the prenatal period.

As indicated in the ministerial decree of 18 November 2009, the dedicated storage of cord blood in Del Paese is free.

The Del Paeseno Healthcare System currently has a network of eighteen banks throughout the country, connected to various hospitals. The "placental blood banks" are coordinated nationally by the National Blood Center, in collaboration with the National Transplant Center. 

Read also: November 15, World Umbilical Cord Day


It consists of storing cord blood for use exclusively for newborn babies. Preservation for autologous use is possible at blood banks abroad. In this case, the costs inherent in the autologous conservation of the cord blood are borne by the applicant.

Questions and answers

Why do public cord donation banks not allow personal use of cord cells? 

The Del Paesena law does not allow the autologous conservation of cord blood because it is inspired by criteria of solidarity and scientific evidence. The probability of using one's own cord cells is in fact very low (1 in a hundred thousand), while sharing in a public bank increases the possibility of finding compatible stem cells in the event of disease.

Read also: Umbilical cord: 5 things you (maybe) don't know

What must be done to donate the umbilical cord?

Unfortunately, not all hospitals or clinics are licensed to be part of the cordon donation system. First of all, therefore, it is necessary to inquire about the centers available for donation. After that, the hospital will schedule an interview to assess your medical history and eligibility for donation.

Before giving birth, it is better remind the healthcare staff that they have completed the donation process cord and they will take a small blood sample to screen for infectious blood diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

Read also: The hospitals where the cord is given

When the umbilical cord cannot be donated

All women who are experiencing one physiological pregnancy without particular difficulties and without previous pathologies, they can donate the umbilical cord to a public bank. According to the indications of the Ministry of Health, however, in some situations the donation is not possible, some of these are:

  • gemelli o multiple births: twins are often smaller and do not have enough cord blood for transplantation. Furthermore, they are often born premature and this is another reason why donation is excluded;
  • premature birth;
  • in the presence of parents or siblings of the child with cancer;
  • when mom has the diabetes on insulin therapy.
  • when mom received a transplant organ or tissue.
  • when the mother has a high risk of contracting blood-borne diseases. For example, if you have recently had a tattoo or a piercing done with non-sterile techniques or materials.
  • when the mother lived in areas of the world with a high risk of blood-borne diseases.

In any case, the medical staff of the gynecology and obstetrics department will carry out an interview with the expectant mother to inform her correctly and acquire information necessary for the procedure.

The decision to donate is a personal one and must be based on correct information and advice to be given by the health authorities and your doctor.

Read also: Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Conservation: A Mom's Story

  • umbilical cord
  • cord donation
  • stem cord
  • umbilical cord blood donation
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