Umbilical cord blood (UCB) is a rich source of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which have the capacity to generate blood cells. HSCs are already used to treat over 80 different conditions and are the subject of dozens of ongoing clinical trials.

Despite HSCs being easily obtained from umbilical cord blood, most transplants still use HSCs derived from bone marrow. This is despite UCB stem cells having several advantages over bone marrow stem cells, including:

  • UCB is collected from the discarded umbilical cord with no risk to mother or child
  • Collecting UCB is completely pain free, while bone marrow donors must undergo a painful procedure
  • UCB stem cells are a highly regulated and accredited material
  • UCB stem cell samples can be easily stored and are available at short notice
  • The stem cells found in cord blood are ‘younger’ which makes them less likely to trigger cause high-grade graft vs host disease (GvHD) in the recipient
  • HLA matching requirements are less stringent compared to stem cell donations between adult unrelated donors. In many cases a 4/6 or 5/8 HLA match is acceptable when using UCB stem cells, while bone marrow stem cells usually require a 9/10 match
  • Multiple units of UCB can be combined for larger transplants
  • Researchers have found that UCB has a lower relapse rate and higher survival rate

The Potential Of Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells

The haematopoietic stem cells found in UCB can be used to treat a wide variety of illnesses. This includes many forms of cancer, metabolic disorders, blood disorders, and immune system disorders.


The only significant issue with using cord blood stem cells is the small sample size. Some treatments require relatively high cell doses for successful engraftment and there is typically a small number of stem cells in a cord blood sample.

Fortunately, the small sample size doesn’t affect how UCB stem cells are used in academic research, biotech, pharma and novel cell therapy clinical trials. The many benefits of cord blood stem cells and research opportunities mean that UCB banking will only increase in popularity in the future.

Source: Cord blood: an under-utilised source of hematopoietic cells