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Cord Blood Basics

Umbilical cord blood is one of three sources for the blood-forming cells used in transplants. The other two sources are bone marrow and peripheral (circulating) blood. The first cord blood transplant was done in 1988. Cord blood plays an important role in transplant today. Doctors are still learning about the ways cord blood transplants are similar to and different from marrow or peripheral blood transplants.

Reasons Doctors May Choose Cord Blood

When your doctor searches the Be The Match Registry, he or she will choose the best cell source for you. That may be marrow or peripheral blood from an adult donor or it may be a cord blood unit. A doctor might choose cord blood because of some of the ways it differs from marrow or peripheral blood.

More Tolerant Matching

A close match between the patient and the donor or cord blood unit can improve a patient's outcome after transplant. Even though a closely matched cord blood unit is preferred, clinical studies suggest the match may not have to be as close as is needed for marrow or peripheral blood transplants. If you have an uncommon tissue type, your doctor may not find a closely matched adult donor for you. However, a cord blood unit may be an option.

More Quickly Available

Cord blood units are stored and ready to use. A cord blood unit can be selected and delivered to the transplant center in less than two weeks whereas it can take two months or more to find an unrelated marrow or peripheral blood donor. Your doctor may choose cord blood if you need a transplant quickly.

Less Graft-Versus-Host Disease

Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a common complication after an allogeneic transplant (which uses cells from a family member, unrelated donor or cord blood unit). GVHD can range from mild to life-threatening. Studies have found that after a cord blood transplant, fewer patients get GVHD than after marrow or peripheral blood transplants. Patients in the studies who did get GVHD after a cord blood transplant tended to get less severe cases.

Reasons Doctors May Not Choose Cord Blood

There are also reasons a doctor may choose not to use cord blood for a transplant, including:

Number Of Cells :- There may not be enough blood-forming cells in a cord blood unit for the size of the patient.

Time To Engraft :- It usually takes longer for cord blood cells to engraft (begin to grow in the patient and create new blood cells and an immune system). Until the cells engraft, the patient is at a high risk for infection.

Backup Cells :- Patients cannot get backup cells from the same cord blood unit. If a patient's transplanted marrow or peripheral blood cells do not engraft or the patient relapses, the patient may be able to get a second donation from the same adult donor. After a cord blood transplant, this option is not available. However, doctors may be able to use a different cord blood unit or a backup adult donor instead.

Newer Option

Cord blood is a newer treatment approach for transplant. Doctors do not have as much information about patients' long-term results after cord blood transplants as they do for marrow transplants.

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