Nav: Home

Stem cell-rich cord blood donations could increase by 'nudging' parents, study suggests

January 11, 2018

Toronto - It contains potentially lifesaving stem cells that can treat a host of blood-based cancers and other diseases. Yet the blood found in newborns' umbilical cords is almost always discarded as medical waste, rather than banked for future needs.

A two-year study of expectant mothers in Milan, Italy, however has found that cord blood donations increased significantly when parents received information about the procedure and "prompts" to indicate their interest in donating at both early and late stages of their pregnancies.

"We more than doubled the number of cord blood units that were collected. We learned a lot and we did a little bit of good too so that feels nice," said Nicola Lacetera, an applied economist at the University of Toronto Mississauga, who is also cross-appointed to the UofT's Rotman School of Management and one of the study's four authors. Prof. Lacetera is also a Chief Scientist with the Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman (BEAR) centre. He conducted the study with Daniela Grieco of Bocconi University, Mario Macis of Johns Hopkins University and Daniela Di Martino of Opedale Buzzi, Milan.

It is the first randomized control study to apply behavioural science "nudging" techniques to cord blood donation. A nudge uses knowledge of human psychology to create a low-key, non-coercive intervention that makes it easier for people to take positive actions they support, but may find hard to do.

People may not donate their baby's cord blood even if they'd like to because they procrastinate -- such as putting off the required paperwork to allow the donation -- or are overwhelmed by the myriad of decisions and plans parents have to make closer to baby's arrival , among other reasons. Parents may also store their baby's cord blood in a private bank, but this is banned in Italy, where the study took place.

The study conditions included no information given about cord blood donation, and information provided early in the pregnancy or late. This could be combined with asking expectant parents about their intention to donate, and, in the case of the early-informed condition, a third-trimester reminder about their intention, plus an opportunity to change it.

The combination with the most nudges had the highest donation rate: just over 21 per cent of women who received donation information early in their pregnancy, an opportunity to signal their intention, followed by a third-trimester reminder and revision opportunity successfully donated. This compared to donations from 2.7 percent of women who received no information and 11.4 percent of women who received it only in their third trimester.

All told, out of 850 expectant mothers, some 57 cord blood donations were made when nudging was used, compared to 18 to 20 without the intervention.

As positive as these numbers are, the study says donations could have been doubled by the removal of organizational and institutional barriers, such as a lack of staff to perform the cord blood collection and inflexible operating hours at the blood bank.

Cord blood donation is a relatively recent option, which may be another reason why so few people do it. Canada opened its first national public cord blood bank in Ottawa in 2013. The Milano Cord Blood Bank, where donations in the study were stored, opened in 1993. Italy's public cord blood donation rate is about one percent. In the U.S., the rate of cord blood donation of any kind is believed to be below five percent.
The complete study is available at Nature at

For the latest thinking on business, management and economics from the Rotman School of Management, visit

The Rotman School of Management is located in the heart of Canada's commercial and cultural capital and is part of the University of Toronto, one of the world's top 20 research universities. The Rotman School fosters a new way to think that enables our graduates to tackle today's global business and societal challenges. For more information, visit

For more information:

Ken McGuffin
Manager, Media Relations
Rotman School of Management
University of Toronto
Voice 416.946.3818

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Related Cord Blood Articles:

Stem cell transplants may advance ALS treatment by repair of blood-spinal cord barrier
Researchers at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla., show in a new study that bone marrow stem cell transplants helped improve motor functions and nervous system conditions in mice with the disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) by repairing damage to the blood-spinal cord barrier.
Oxygen improves blood flow, restores more function in spinal cord injuries: U of A study
UAlberta neuroscientists find that blocking a specific enzyme and putting more oxygen through the spinal cord produces better blood flow, ultimately improving motor function such as walking.
Protein in human umbilical cord blood rejuvenates old mice's impaired learning, memory
Human umbilical cord blood can rejuvenate learning and memory in older mice, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Factor isolated from babies' cord blood could treat harmful inflammation, sepsis
A factor from umbilical cord blood could become the basis for developing new drugs to fight harmful inflammation, University of Utah School of Medicine researchers report.
Cord blood outperforms matched, unrelated donor in bone marrow transplant
A University of Colorado Cancer Center study finds that three years post-bone marrow transplant, the incidence of severe chronic graft-versus-host disease was 44 percent in patients who had received transplants from matched, unrelated donors (MUD) and 8 percent in patients who had received umbilical cord blood transplants (CBT).
USF researchers find stroke damages blood-spinal cord barrier
Researchers investigating the short and long-term effects of ischemic stroke in a rodent model have found that stroke can cause long-term damage to the blood-spinal cord barrier, which provides a specialized protective 'microenvironment' for neural cells in the spinal cord, creating a 'toxic environment' in the spinal cord that might leave stroke survivors susceptible to motor dysfunction and disease pathology.
Stem cells from umbilical cord blood may help treat eczema
A new study suggests that treatment with stem cells from umbilical cord blood might be an effective therapy for patients with moderate-to-severe eczema, or atopic dermatitis.
Protective effect of genetically modified cord blood on spinal cord injury in rats
Researchers of Kazan Federal University genetically modified cord blood which managed to increase tissue sparing and numbers of regenerated axons, reduce glial scar formation and promote behavioral recovery when transplanted immediately after a rat contusion spinal cord injury.
Transplanted human umbilical cord blood cells may offer therapy for Alzheimer's sufferers
Researchers injected human umbilical cord blood cells into mice modeled with Alzheimer's disease to investigate how the cells were distributed and retained in tissues, including the brain.
Umbilical cord 'milking' improves blood flow in preterm infants
A technique to increase the flow of blood from the umbilical cord into the infant's circulatory system improves blood pressure and red blood cell levels in preterm infants delivered by cesarean section, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Related Cord Blood Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...