An umbilical cord that is going to be stored must first be cut from a newborn infant. Ideally, this should be done as soon as possible, then the cord should be stored in a sterile container before being transported to a lab. Sometimes the whole umbilical cord is stored, but other times just a piece of the cord is stored. Umbilical cord blood and the gel surrounding the arteries in the cord may also be stored separately. Parents can choose to have their child's cord stored in a private bank for personal use, or donated to a public bank.
The decision to use umbilical storage facilities should be made before an infant is born, so the doctors and nurses can be prepared. A cord that is destined for storage should be cut almost immediately following the birth. This ensures that more blood remains in the cord.
After the cord is clamped and cut, the cord blood is sometimes removed. This can be done with a syringe, or the blood can be dumped into a sterile container. This is usually done before the blood and tissue samples are transported to an umbilical cord storage facility.
If parents choose to save the umbilical tissue as well, this is also put into a sterile container. A preservative is also added to the container. Sections that are around 4 to 6 inches (10.2 to 15.2 centimeters) can be put into umbilical cord storage.
Umbilical cord tissue must quickly labeled and transported to a laboratory for processing, since the tissue can become useless after a relatively period of time. Most experts agree umbilical tissue must be processed within a day or two. During this time, the tissue is stored in a very cold compartment to help preserve it.
Various components may be extracted from the umbilical cord during processing, including any remaining blood. The gel that surrounds the arteries in umbilical cords, known as Wharton's jelly, may also be removed. This gel-like substance is actually a type of connective tissue, and it is rich with stem cells.
Extremely cold temperatures are necessary for umbilical cord storage. Most experts agree that the ideal temperature for umbilical cord storage is around -249 degrees Fahrenheit (-156 degrees Celsius). These extreme temperatures are usually maintained with either liquid nitrogen or nitrogen vapor.
Liquid nitrogen is able to store umbilical cords at a temperature of around -310 degrees Fahrenheit (-190 degrees Celsius), and the tissue is put into a metal container before being submerged in the liquid. Some experts, however, believe that there is a possibility of bacterial contamination when using liquid nitrogen. Nitrogen vapor can also be used in umbilical cord storage, and this maintains a temperature of around -202 degrees Fahrenheit (-130 degrees Celsius). One disadvantage to this method of storage is that the temperatures may fluctuate.
Using a private umbilical cord storage bank can be very expensive. Individuals with privately stored umbilical cords, however, will have access to perfectly matched stem cells in the future. Individuals who can not afford to pay for private storage but don't want their infants' umbilical cords to be medical waste can donate an umbilical cord. This is free, and the umbilical cord blood and tissue can be used for stem cell research.