This seemingly complex choice made easy for soon-to-be mamas!
If you’re expecting a baby, chances are you’ve heard about stem cell collection or cord blood banking. While it may seem like one more thing to add to your already lengthy list of things to consider, cord blood banking is easy to set up and has multiple benefits for the whole family. So what is blood banking and how is it beneficial? And what are your options here in Hong Kong in both the private and public sectors? We’ve gathered all the answers to your questions about how to cord blood bank here in Hong Kong and what exactly to expect from the procedure.
What is it?
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. Near the end of the third trimester, there is a transfer of immune system-boosting cells that are sent from mum to baby in preparation for birth. This makes the cord a rich source of stem cells that can be extracted from the blood in it. If preparations are arranged before birth, a mother can choose to freeze those cells for future medical use. A variety of companies have plans and options to bank these cells for as long as needed. While this technology may sound new, it’s actually been around since the 1990s and has quickly become common practice among expecting mothers.
Why is it important?
These cells are considered valuable because they have a high regenerative power that has been generally untouched by viruses, radiation, medicine and other life exposures. Cord blood treatment is FDA-approved for over 80 different diseases, including different types of cancers, inherited metabolic disorders, anaemias, tumours and more. More research is being done with the hope that it will one day even be able to treat conditions like cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s. Cord blood banking also has a chance of helping other members of the family. Parents have a 100% chance of being a partial match, siblings have a 25% chance of being a perfect match (or 50% of being a partial match). Even other extended family members have a chance of matching. One point to note though is that the number of cells collected may not be enough to help treat a patient of bigger body size, so the best matches remain siblings and parents. It’s good to discuss your options with your obstetrician and your baby’s future paediatrician if you’re considering cord blood banking.
Cord blood must be taken immediately after birth, within 5 to 10 minutes to avoid coagulation, which is why the procedure is only possible if planned before the birth. A needle is inserted at the vein near the end of the umbilical cord after it is cut, with no harm to mum or baby. Blood is then removed from the cord and placenta until it is pale in colour to make sure as much of the blood (and stem cells) is collected as possible. The blood is then placed into a sterile storage bag and is ready to be transported, frozen and stored.
Cord blood banking in Hong Kong
There are two options for banking here in Hong Kong – the private and the public sector. It’s important to note that banking and storage are dictated by where a mum chooses to give birth. For example, if you give birth in the public sector, you can only store within the public bank. If you’re giving birth in a private sector, you can only bank and store privately.
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Cord blood banking is done through the Hong Kong Red Cross and can only be performed at two local hospitals – Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the United Christian Hospital. However, if you store through the public sector, there is no guarantee that the blood could be used by you or your child if needed. It can, however, help others in need, so it is the equivalent of donating it to a public blood bank. It is free to have your baby’s cord blood collected and donated to the public bank. That is not an option in the private sector. Additionally, one of the regulations is that the mother cannot have spent more than three cumulative months in the UK between 1 January 1980 and 31 December 1996, which rules out many expat mums. There is also no specific ordinance in regulating the storage of cord blood in Hong Kong, but it does fall under the regulatory control of existing ordinances under different circumstances (similar to that of any organ).
If you would like to bank your cord blood in the public sector, you will need to fill out this PDF form. The Hong Kong Department of Health has an FAQ page for cord blood donation and the Hong Kong Red Cross also has an information page.
Private cord blood banking offers more choices in terms of storage, as well as giving you the option of flying your banked blood to other countries that have stricter banking and storage regulations. In general, there may be registration fees and then the remainder of the cost is the storage fee plan that can be paid annually (or all at once) and is based on the length of storage. Common storage lengths are 10, 18 and 25 years. The annual storage fees can range anywhere from $880 to $3,000 HKD per year for just the cord blood. This cost increases if you would like to include tissue. Additionally, storage plans can often be personalised to whatever the family’s needs are. There is also often an additional fee for the collection and handling of the cord blood from the private doctor or hospital (this varies).
Does insurance cover blood banking in Hong Kong?
Health insurance doesn’t generally cover cord blood banking services, meaning that if you want to bank privately it will likely come out of your own pocket. Check with your maternity insurance provider and then decide if banking privately is something you can afford.
Where to bank?
Athena Life, 100 Cyberport Road, Cyberport, Hong Kong, 8192 8668, www.athenalifeasia.com
Cord Life, Suite 3603A, 36/F, Skyline Tower, 39 Wang Kwong Road, Kowloon Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong, 3980 2888, www.cordlife.com.hk
Cryolife, Customer Service Centre and Laboratory, 5/F, Delta House, 3 On Yiu Street, Siu Lek Yuen, Shatin, Hong Kong, 2110 2121, www.cryolife.com.hk
HealthBaby Biotech (Hong Kong), Unit 702-706, 7/F (Office) & Unit G02-05, G/F (Laboratory), Lakeside 2 West Wing, No. 10 Science Park West Avenue, Hong Kong Science Park, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong, 3188 8899, www.healthbaby.hk
*Editor’s note: Pro Stem Cell is currently upgrading its laboratories and is not collecting stem cells at the moment.