Cord Blood Banking: Podcast Episode #132
Today, we sit down with Kathryn Cross, CEO & Founder of Anja Health to discuss the importance and practical uses of umbilical cord blood. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Alyssa: Hey, everyone. This is Alyssa, and today, I am talking with Kathryn Cross. She is the founder and CEO of Anja. Anja is a cord blood banking company, and I don’t think we’ve ever talked about cord blood on this podcast, so I’m kind of excited to get some questions answered. You mentioned that you started this because of your brother, Andrew. You couldn’t find a cord blood match. Do you want to talk a little bit about the history of why you started this?
Kathryn: Sure. Yeah, so when my brother was 1 and I was 3, he was in a near-drowning accident that led to his diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Prior to that, he was completely healthy, and my parents never banked his umbilical cord blood or anything like that but began to look into treatments for cerebral palsy. And there isn’t necessarily a go-to treatment, but there are ways to sort of alleviate the symptoms of cerebral palsy and improve motor skills and such. One of the most promising resources and studies that my parents were able to find was one related to umbilical cord blood. So there are children who have had cerebral palsy, and their parents banked their umbilical cord blood, and they were able to use it and saw pretty substantial improvements in their motor skills, even vision, things like that. Ever since then, I’ve been exposed to umbilical cord blood and just always kept up with the possibilities and continuing use cases because as research advances, it just continues to grow every year, and people find more and more effective use cases for it. I’ve even been seeing it in anti-aging type related uses or athletes being able to use stem cells from the umbilical cord blood or tissue to be able to treat injury, that kind of thing. So that’s how I got started. And that’s also why I’m really convicted that umbilical cord blood is the future of preventative care and should definitely be something that every parent engages in.
Alyssa: Wow. My daughter is almost 9, and I don’t think I banked it, but I donated it. So is there – it’s obviously banked somewhere. What’s the difference between those two, I guess? Do you know?
Kathryn: Yeah, so my company allows parents to be able to bank for their own child. So it’s always the parents’ property. When the child turns 18, it becomes the child’s property. For that case, it’s pretty much just autologous use, so people using it for themselves. And it’s their property, so they could potentially give it away to someone else if they wanted to. But just kind of the ownership and reassurance in knowing that you would always have access to it. Whereas with donating, you donate it to a public bank, and people who didn’t have the umbilical cord blood stored at birth could potentially look into a bank for donors. So that’s what my parents did. They looked in banks for donors. But the thing with public banks is, they tend to be partnered with pretty high-income area hospitals, so as a result, the donors that they get tend to skew pretty white, and matching goes by ethnicity. So my brother and I are half Chinese and half white, so it was really difficult to find a match, and my parents couldn’t find one. Right now, there’s just kind of a gap in public banks where people are looking with donors and looking to donate. For especially people who have predisposition to certain illnesses and also for people who are mixed race and such, we advise that people bank their own cord blood.
Alyssa: Yeah, that’s something that I never really knew or understood until my nephew needed blood, and I didn’t realize, because he is half Mexican, half Dutch. And I didn’t realize that that’s a really hard combination to find. Like, I just thought blood was – there’s blood types, and we share blood types, and I didn’t know that it had anything to do with ethnicity until he needed blood. So, really, I mean, even if a parent didn’t have concerns about their own child or want to bank it, it’s really beneficial. It’s kind of like putting on your license that you’ll be an organ donor. This is kind of like, if you’re not going to do anything with the cord blood anyway, why not donate it, because someone else might be able to use it.
Alyssa: So are there certain types of things you’re finding parents do use your company to bank cord blood? Is it more preventative? Do they know that they have, you know, say, a genetic family disorder?
Kathryn: I would say it tends to be just people that are interested in wellness and preventative care, definitely. I think it for sure resonates with people who are mixed race, and a lot of especially communities like Black parents tend to be drawn to it, I think, because it can be – cord blood has been FDA-approved to treat sickle cell anemia and diabetes and just things in general that Black communities tend to have a higher prevalence rate with. And also we offer placenta banking starting for moms who are due in November, so with that as well, the mom can potentially use it, and I know there are really high rates of maternal mortality and such, but for the most part, it’s just people that are generally interested in wellness and preventative care.
Alyssa: I’m interested. I didn’t know you were doing – what is placenta banking?
Kathryn: It’s basically just the same as umbilical cord blood and tissue banking. So we offer all three. The cord blood and then also the cord tissue, so the cord itself, and then placenta banking. So all of them are just cryo-preserving it for later use. I know a lot of people do, like, placenta encapsulation and such, so yeah, it could just be using placenta encapsulation as using the placenta right after birth, or you could choose to store it later on. And the placenta is very rich with stem cells, as well. So it’s just an additional source of stem cells.
Alyssa: So a parent could potentially do both or all three, you said. Blood, tissue, and placenta? Okay.
Alyssa: What is that process? For anyone who’s either never heard of this before or thinking about doing it or maybe read about it but doesn’t know what that looks like. Like, let’s say you’re in the hospital. You just gave birth. Then what?
Kathryn: Usually, parents will have chosen to bank prior to birth. So it can be even up to a couple days before birth, and then we can get a collection kit to parents pretty quickly. But from that point, we send parents that kit, which contains a blood bag and some vials and a small jar for the tissue, a larger container for the placenta, things like that, inside of this collection kit. And then it becomes essentially a part of their hospital bag. They can take it with them to the hospital, or we’ve had clients just keep it at home if they’re doing a homebirth, and just let their admitting nurse know if they’re going to the hospital or their midwife know or anyone that’s helping out with the homebirth, and then anyone can pretty much do the collection. It’s a very simple process. I mean, even I would feel comfortable doing it. It’s just a matter of sticking a needle into the umbilical cord blood vein and then letting the blood flow. And then afterwards putting the cord and placenta into the given containers.
Alyssa: So typically, a nurse would do in the hospital situation, I would imagine?
Alyssa: And then the midwife in a homebirth?
Kathryn: Yes. And then after that, the mom would just fill out a quick form on our website and just say that they’re ready through this form for pickup, and then within 4 to 6 hours, our shipping team will come and pick it up from wherever they are in the United States. We’ve partnered with an international shipping team, as well. So we’re not serving international clients, but we have the capability to do so. Because we have this national presence with our partner, we can go pretty much anywhere very quickly. So they can pick it up and then take it to our partner lab in New Jersey, and that is where it is cryo-preserved and kept in safety.
Alyssa: I do remember having to fill something out online. I got a kit, and then I just had to give that to them. I was like, here’s this. I don’t know what to do with it. And they obviously did. So it’s a lot – even though all that stuff you just said might sound intimidating for a parent, I think they just need to know, like, once you get that kit, like you said, put it in your hospital bag, or if you’re at home, you just give it to whoever is handling that. You know, like give it to the nurse on staff or give it to your midwife, and they’re going to handle it. It’s not something that they have to do.
Kathryn: Yeah, and they pretty much know what to do. Like, we’ve had – our most recent client, she was doing a homebirth and had a midwife, and we offered to walk her midwife through the whole process on Zoom, but she said her midwife had done it before and felt comfortable. So I think for the most part, people know what to do, and we have, like, a little comic inside with illustrations and such that serve as directions, so people can do it on their own without our guidance, as well. I think it would be pretty easy.
Alyssa: And how long can you store the tissue and blood?
Kathryn: Pretty much as long as you want. Like, an entire lifetime, even. We offer packages in 20 years, so 20 years of cryo-preservation at a time. This is because of that ownership switch to the child once the child turns 18. At that point, the child can decide what they want to do. But they can renew at any time with us, and then we can continue to store it.
Alyssa: That’s really cool.
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Alyssa: So is there anything else you think people need to know about saving cord blood or tissue?
Kathryn: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of parents are under the impression that it’s sort of similar to an insurance policy, which I think is definitely a good analogy, but I always try to convey to parents that it’s more than just an insurance policy. I really believe that if someone has access to stem cells, they will use it at some point in their life. I mean, I was even in Mexico on vacation and saw signs for stem cell treatments at the same type of place that they were giving out Botox and such, and obviously, they’re not, like, the same, but I think it’s just that now stem cells are being seen in this light of wellness and beauty and anti-aging, sort of equivalent to Botox and such. So even if a child spends their whole life being healthy, then they don’t necessarily just waste their money on this insurance policy, but they could even use it for, like, treating dementia or just combatting aging in general and treating injuries for athletes or improving athletic performance, like Kobe Bryant and a lot of MBA players have utilized stem cells. Selma Blair recently announced that she was in remission from multiple sclerosis and received an umbilical cord blood treatment. So I think it really is the future of medicine. I think it’s not just an investment in an insurance policy but an investment in the fact that your child will someday be able to use it, and the possibilities are only growing.
Alyssa: That’s really cool. So if people are interested, how do they find you?
Kathryn: Our website is Anja Health. I named it after my brother Andrew. We also are on Instagram and Twitter as @useanja. On Facebook as Anja. LinkedIn is Anja. TikTok as fertilityfriend. So we’re trying to be as accessible as possible through all types of different social channels, and we have our numbers listed for calling, texting, and scheduling appointments on our website. So anything like that, we’re open for it.
Alyssa: Very cool. Thanks. We’ll put links to everything in the show notes, if anyone has questions on how to find you. Or if they do look at the website and have additional questions, you said it’s easy for them to find you to ask you specific questions, correct?
Alyssa: Well, thanks for your time today!
Kathryn: Yeah, thank you!
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