Cord Blood vs. Bone Marrow Transplants

Before 1998, bone marrow transplants were the standard recommended medical procedure. With the emergence of cord blood transplants, donors and recipients now had a practical and appealing alternative. While cord blood has not necessarily eclipsed bone marrow transplants, the two share equal-enough footing that they should be formally compared.

Cord blood and bone marrow each have their strengths and weaknesses. By examining the set of criteria, you can read which transplant choice comes out on top.

GVHD : Cord blood preferred

Graft vs. host disease is a serious, life-threatening immune response to blood transplants. It can be fatal for up to 40% of patients who get GVHD. Because cord blood is more primitive and therefore more ‘forgiving’, the T-cells found in cord blood that make up the recipient’s new immune system are less likely to attack the recipient’s body. This means a lower incidence of GVHD for cord blood transplants.


HLA Matching : Cord blood preferred

For a successful transplant to heal the recipient, there is a list of criteria that has to be matched. The more perfectly matched the transplant is to the recipient’s system, the lesser the incidence of GVHD. Again, because the stem cells in cord blood are younger, matching between donor and recipient does not have to be perfect. This means that you can treat a broader range of recipients with cord blood. It also means that a recipient is less likely to get GVHD.

Rich Source of Stem Cells : Cord blood preferred

Cord blood is said to contain 10 times the amount of stem cells as an equally sized portion of bone marrow.

Regenerative Source : Cord blood preferred

It is thought that because cord blood stem cells are younger, they have better proliferative properties—that is, they are able to regenerate more than bone marrow stem cells.

Availability : Cord blood preferred

About 30,000 individuals, of which 9,000 are children, are diagnoses every year with a disease treatable through bone marrow transplantation. About 75% of those do not have a matching relative, and 70% are unable to find a matching donor. It’s crucial that patients with severe cases of cancer, immune deficiencies and blood disorders such as anemia get treatment quickly. Many of these patients die before a donor is found. Cord blood on the other hand is readily available. The stored cord blood is available at notice to be used for a transplant. This is true of private and public banking.

Pain : Cord blood preferred

Bone marrow donation is an invasive, requires anesthesia and is a somewhat painful experience. It is removed from the rear of the pelvic bone through a series of injections. Cord blood removal is quick and painless; the blood is removed from the insensate umbilical cord.


One study found that while 11% of cord blood transplants don’t ‘take’ to the recipient, only 2% of bone marrow transplants don’t ‘take’. Graft rejection is when the patient’s immune system destroys the new marrow.


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