Why is it important to find a reliable private ("family") cord blood bank?
Finding a reliable family bank is crucial. If a cord blood bank doesn't have high standards for handling, shipping, and storing cord blood, your baby's cord blood might not be usable if you ever need it. And if a bank isn't financially stable, where and how your baby's cord blood is stored long term could be affected.
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Cord blood storage is a medical service. So if you shop for a provider based solely on price, for example, the bank you select may not meet the highest quality standards.
While all family (and public) cord blood banks must pass FDA inspection, beyond that baseline they vary in their practices and standards. Both the doctors at transplant centers and those conducting clinical trials require cord blood to be tested against rigorous guidelines before it's used for medical therapy. If the day comes when one of your children needs the cord blood, you'll want to feel confident that it was stored properly.
How do I begin my search for a good cord blood bank?
If possible, start your cord blood bank search early. There's a lot to consider when choosing a family bank, and cord blood banks urge expectant parents to enroll in their program during the second trimester. Some banks even offer modest savings if you sign up early.
(If you're already in your third trimester, you can still bank your baby's cord blood. If you're getting close to your due date, you may have to pay a late enrollment fee.)
Here are some tips for getting started:
- Set aside plenty of time to review the available services and weigh your options.
- Make sure your doctor or midwife knows of your decision and knows how to collect cord blood.
- Review the Find a Family Bank search tool compiled by the nonprofit Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation. It lists about 200 family cord blood banks worldwide. You'll find contact information, and descriptions for banks in each country.
- Ask friends and family, as well as your healthcare provider, for recommendations. Stick to people you really trust. Some family cord blood banks offer financial incentives to customers who refer new parents. And some doctors refer all their patients to the same bank, simply because it's the only one they're familiar with or because they have a business relationship with the bank.
- When considering a bank, don't assume it's best to enroll in one close to your home. A bank's headquarters and its storage facility may not even be in the same state. What's important is to find the right bank for you.
What specific questions should I ask about a family bank I'm considering?
Once you identify a bank, here are some questions to ask:
Does the bank meet federal, state, and accreditation requirements?
The FDA now regulates and inspects family cord blood banks nationally. All banks must comply with these federal regulations or be shut down.
Some states have their own licensing requirements, so you'll want to make sure the bank you're considering is licensed to accept cord blood from that state. Visit the U.S. Regulations page of The Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation for details about specific states.
The Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation recommends selecting a cord blood bank that has passed a voluntary accreditation standard specific to laboratory processing of cord blood. The accrediting agency should be either the AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks but now an international organization) or the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT).
Both groups ensure that cord blood laboratories have standard operating procedures consistent with current best practices for handling, processing, and storing cord blood.
Does the cord blood bank provide shipping with temperature stability?
The Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation recommends choosing a family cord blood bank whose shipping method ensures that cord blood is kept at a steady temperature on the way to the lab.
Shipping the cord blood to the laboratory is the crucial first step in safeguarding your baby's stem cells. Once cord blood is collected, the blood cells and stem cells in it gradually begin to die. Exposing the cord blood to temperature extremes, either too hot or too cold, speeds up cell death.
There are two ways that banks can protect the cord blood in transit: One, commonly used for donated cord blood, is to ship in a very heavily insulated box. These containers have so much thermal protection that cord blood can be sent via FedEx. Priority shipping services like FedEx guarantee arrival time but not temperature conditions during transit.
The second approach, used by many family cord blood banks, is to ship in smaller boxes that have less thermal protection but are carried by Life Sciences medical couriers. These couriers guarantee that boxes are kept in a passenger compartment where the temperature is in a safe range.
Ask the bank you're considering about the temperature stability of shipping containers and whether a courier service is used. Sometimes when banks try to lure parents with "discount" prices at "brand name" laboratories, you'll find that they're cutting corners on kit insulation and shipping procedures.
Does the bank process cord blood within 48 hours?
Agencies that oversee cord blood transplants have set a limit of 48 hours on the time between birth and processing the cord blood for cryogenic storage. So you'll want to make sure your bank processes cord blood within 48 hours after the birth, says Frances Verter, founder and executive director of The Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation.
The 48-hour requirement isn't usually difficult to meet, unless severe weather disrupts shipping or you're shipping cord blood internationally. Still, it's an important detail to verify.
Does the cord blood bank have clinical experience?
Ask the banks you're considering how much of their customers' cord blood has been used for transplants and other therapies.
Experience releasing cord blood for transplants and participating in experimental therapies is an indication that the company is successful with clinical applications of cord blood. It confirms that the blood is being stored carefully enough for the stem cells to be viable when removed from the freezer.
Be wary of a bank that has lots of cord blood units in storage but has never used a unit for transplant. It could mean that doctors have rejected their cord blood – a warning flag that the bank's procedures are not careful or thorough enough.
If the bank is new, you can't expect it to have accumulated years of clinical experience. But it's reassuring if the people operating the company have a proven track record.
Is the cord blood bank financially stable and profitable?
Cord blood banking is a business, and businesses do go bankrupt. Fortunately, if a cord blood bank goes out of business, invariably another company takes over the frozen inventory.
While it is reassuring that you're not likely to lose your child's cord blood, it's not desirable to have it moved from one lab to another – and, worse, to wonder whether it was maintained properly in the waning days of the failed company.
It can be difficult to assess a company's long-term financial future, but here are some things to look into:
- Ask the bank you're considering if it has an insurance plan or partnerships with other companies to cover inventory in the event of a natural disaster or business failure.
- Look at the business experience of the company: How long has it been banking cord blood? Is it a subsidiary of a large stable company? Is it affiliated with a hospital or research institution? Profitability and an affiliation don't guarantee that the bank will be around in 20 years, but they do make it more likely that the business is being competently managed.
More cord blood resources
Find out more about cord blood and its potentially lifesaving qualities in our overview of cord blood banking, including a definition of cord blood and why parents decide to save it and store it. Plus: Read our cord blood bank reviews, learn how to donate cord blood, and more.
To hear what other parents are saying about cord blood banking decisions, visit the cord blood banking group in our Community.