Did you know that for children of mixed race backgrounds or ethnic minorities, the chance of finding a matching donor from a public blood bank may be as low as 29%, compared with those from a white caucasian background whose chance is 79%? (1)

The disparity in these figures is due to a range of factors. HLA markers, which are used to predict a match, are inherited, so a person’s ethnic background is key, and in those with mixed race heritage, these are far more diverse. The demographics of public stem cell banks are constantly changing, however there is a known shortage of black, Asian and mixed race donors. 

While the NHS has made diversifying the donor base of the National Blood Service one of the top five strategic priorities, there is still a long way to go until they meet clinical demand. As an example of an adjacent service, it was reported in 2023 that in the UK, 30% of the transplant waiting list are ethnic minorities despite making up only 14% of the population as a whole. (2)

The NHS Cord Blood Bank is funded partly based on their ability to build a more diverse range of cord blood donors, which is why they have 42% of their donations derived from ethnic minorities, compared to 8% of the Antony Nolan register and 2% of the British Bone Marrow Registry. (3) However the National Blood Service does have its limitations such as the locations available for collection which are based around London where they have access to a greater population who are more ethnically diverse. This has resulted in matching rates of around 37% for black or ethnic minority patients compared to 72% for Caucasian patients for unrelated donors. (4)

Why do parents bank their children’s cord blood?

While none of us can know what the future holds, for parents, having the chance to have a potentially life saving treatment ready at hand for their children if required is an opportunity not to be missed. Collecting your child’s cord blood at birth allows parents the chance to store the stem cells contained within it for potential future treatments. 

Stem cells are proven to be useful in the treatment of more than 80 diseases and conditions currently, with research for many more already underway. These precious immature cells are so important as they have the ability to transform in many different cell types in the body, which means that they are able to replace or help to repair cells which are damaged or missing. Some examples of conditions or symptoms of conditions which can be treated using stem cells are cerebral palsy, leukaemia, Parkinson’s disease, thalassaemia and sickle cell disease.

For some families, there is a known genetic condition in their family that they are already aware may affect their child in the future. For others, their heritage may make them more predisposed to certain conditions, such as sickle cell disease in those of African, Hispanic-American, Middle Eastern, Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean descent. In cases such as these, parents may choose to bank their child’s cord blood at birth in order to have access to stem cell treatments should they be required. 

For some parents, they consider stem cell storage as a form of health insurance. Knowing that their children have access to a stem cell treatment should it be required brings peace of mind, particularly for those who are aware that their ethnic heritage means that they are less likely to find a match publicly.

How can I ensure my child will find a match?

When using a public cord blood bank to source stem cells for transplant, the chances of finding a match are lower, particularly for ethnic minorities as mentioned above. 

The most reliable way to ensure that your child will be able to utilise a stem cell transplant in future is to store their own cord blood at birth with a private cord blood bank such as Smart Cells. 

While it is entirely possible to find an unrelated match from a public cord blood bank, having an autologous sample can allow stem cell treatment for diseases such as neuroblastoma, spinal cord injury and leukaemia. An allogeneic stem cell sample which comes from a sibling has a 25% chance of being a match.

In addition to knowing that you have a much higher chance of being able to use your child’s own stored stem cells, storing with a private cord blood bank means that you are able to easily access the required stem cells quickly. Smart Cells’ UK laboratory and storage facility is located near London Heathrow airport to allow for minimised transportation times. You can also rest assured that they have been processed with the most advanced technology and stored in the best possible conditions, meaning that the maximum number of stem cells have been made available for you to use if the time ever came.

Click here to find out more about what Smart Cells can offer to all families, and please do get in touch if we can help with any questions you have about cord blood banking.

(1) https://bethematch.org/transplant-basics/how-blood-stem-cell-transplants-work/how-does-a-patients-ethnic-background-affect-matching/ 

(2) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/64b7c6beef5371000d7aee68/NHSBT_annual_report_and_accounts__2022_to_2023_20point_print_version.pdf 

(3) https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/OutputFile/8539495 

(4) https://nhsbtdbe.blob.core.windows.net/umbraco-assets-corp/28283/a-10-year-vision-for-hsct-and-cellular-therapies-august-2022-8.pdf