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23 July 2020

Umbilical cord blood is an important, non-invasive source of primitive hematopoietic (blood) stem cells which can be easily obtained and may be used as a substitute for bone marrow transplantation. Over the past few decades technological advances have increased the scope for use of stem cells in treatment of various physical ailments like blood disorders, auto immune diseases, cancers, metabolic disorders and immunodeficiency. The ease of collection, immunological naivety and less risk of infections has made UCB stem cells the preferred choice. Besides treatment of diseases, stem cells have also found a niche place in the field of aesthetics and regenerative medicine. All these have led to a widespread enthusiasm in UCB banking.

While it is true that this has a huge potential, there is also quite a bit of misinformation mostly spread by advertisement campaigns led by private cord blood banks which creates unrealistic public expectations. The fact that the chance for an individual to use his or her own blood is miniscule and factors like limited cell dose in autologous (same person) cord blood units and inability to use one’s own stem cells in genetic disorders, have conveniently been overlooked in advertisement campaigns.

Public cord blood banks which function on altruistic basis, on the other hand, have largely been neglected by the mainstream media and consequently, poorly recognized due to lack of propaganda. It was noted that despite the growing needs for Public cord blood banking, the infrastructure is still in its infancy and is not available, at the moment, for the vast majority of donors who deliver in private hospitals or in any other Government hospital other than Hospital Kuala Lumpur, Hospital Selayang, Hospital Serdang and Hospital Ampang.

With the use stem cells in all areas of medicine growing day by day, it is the need of the hour that more awareness regarding cord blood banking and donation is created among the Malaysian public, especially the pregnant women who are the potential donors as currently the need far exceeds the availability. A greater awareness through dissemination of accurate information to the public by the health care providers and increased support from the Government is needed to make cord blood donation more feasible, so that millions in need can be helped. Though dire strategies like banning private cord blood banking as in some European countries like Italy are not needed, the government should formulate strategies to promote public cord blood banking whereby patients can choose what they want without any coercion. The infra-structure for public cord blood banking needs to be put in place as it is grossly inadequate to meet the current needs. Hybrid banking where cord blood donation can be simultaneously done to public banks even when parents consider private cord blood banking may also be encouraged.

It is ironical that more than 95% of umbilical cords are discarded as medical waste, while thousands are searching for cord blood or bone marrow stem cells!

“If a small act makes a big difference in someone’s life, why not do it?”

-Izyani Binte Ayik, 4- times cord blood donor


For more information on cord blood donation in Malaysia, please visit http://www.myhealth.gov.my/en/donate-your-babys-cord-blood/

Article By: Dr. Vinodhini Bhaskaran,

Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist