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Because the body’s immune system is designed to find and get rid of what it believes to be outside contaminants, stem cells and other cells of the immune system cannot be transfused into just anyone. For stem cell transfusions of any type, the body’s immune system can mistakenly start attacking the patient’s own body. This is known as graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) and is a big problem post-transplant. GvHD can be isolated and minimal, but it can also be acute, chronic and even deadly.
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The stored blood can’t always be used, even if the person develops a disease later on, because if the disease was caused by a genetic mutation, it would also be in the stem cells. Current research says the stored blood may only be useful for 15 years.
When a child develops a condition that can be treated with stem cells, they undergo transplant. A doctor infuses stem cells from cord blood or bone marrow into the patient’s bloodstream, where they will turn into cells that fight the disease and repair damaged cells—essentially, they replace and rejuvenate the existing immune system.
Once it arrives at the storage facility, the cord blood will be processed and placed in storage. The cord blood will either be completely immersed in liquid nitrogen or it will be stored in nitrogen vapor.
The baby’s cord blood will be processed and stored in a laboratory facility, often referred to as a blood bank. The cord blood should be processed and stored in a facility that is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) for the purpose of handling stem cells.
There has been considerable debate about the ethical and practical implications of commercial versus public banking. The main arguments against commercial banking have to do with questions about how likely it is that the cord blood will be used by an individual child, a sibling or a family member; the existence of several well-established alternatives to cord blood transplantation and the lack of scientific evidence that cord blood may be used to treat non-blood diseases (such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease). In some cases patients may not be able to receive their own cord blood, as the cells may already contain the genetic changes that predispose them to disease.
Tissue typed and listed on the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®. (The registry is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. When a patient needs a transplant, the registry is searched to find a matching marrow donor or cord blood unit.)
Hematopoietic stem cells can be used to treat more than 70 types of diseases, including diseases of the immune system, genetic disorders, neurologic disorders, and some forms of cancer, including leukemia and lymphoma. For some of these diseases, stem cells are the primary treatment. For others, treatment with stem cells may be used when other treatments have not worked or in experimental research programs.
With the consent of the parents, blood can be collected from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby shortly after birth. This does not hurt the baby or the mother in any way, and it is blood that would otherwise be discarded as biological waste along with the placenta (another rich source of stem cells) after the birth.
Certain public cord blood banks let you mail in your cord blood. You have to decide before the birth if you want to donate your cord blood. If the hospital where you’re delivering doesn’t accept donations, you can contact a lab that offers a mail-in delivery program. After you’ve passed the lab’s screening process, they’ll send you a kit that you can use to package your blood and mail it in, explains Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation (parentsguidecordblood.org), a nonprofit dedicated to educating parents about cord blood donation and cord blood therapists.
The immune system has a way to identify foreign cells; it’s what allows the body to defend itself. So although transplants were proving successful after the first in 1956, they were limited to twins because their shared genetic makeup made them 100 percent compatible. This took a turn in 1958, when scientists discovered a protein present on the surface of almost all cells that lets the body know if the cell is one of its own cells or a foreign cell. In 1973, we finally learned enough about these compatibility markers (called human leukocyte antigens or HLAs) to perform the first unrelated bone marrow transplant.
Properly preserved cord blood is long-lasting. Cord blood is stored in a nitrogen freezer (the same technology used to freeze donated sperm), so it can last for a long time. “The scientist who first developed cord blood preservation methods in 1990 has confirmed that some of the first specimens he stored 23 plus years ago are just as potent as fresh cord blood,” says Mary Halet, Director, Central Region at Be The Match, which is operated by the National Bone Marrow Foundation.
Checked to make sure it has enough blood-forming cells for a transplant. (If there are too few cells, the cord blood unit may be used for research to improve the transplant process for future patients or to investigate new therapies using cord blood, or discarded.)
The stem cells used for autologous transplantation must be relatively free of cancer cells. The harvested cells can sometimes be treated before transplantation in a process known as “purging” to get rid of cancer cells. This process can remove some cancer cells from the harvested cells and minimize the chance that cancer will come back. Because purging may damage some healthy stem cells, more cells are obtained from the patient before the transplant so that enough healthy stem cells will remain after purging.
Through these two means, we are always producing more cells. In fact, much of your body is in a state of constant renewal because many cells can live for only certain periods of time. The lifespan for a cell in the stomach lining is about two days. Red blood cells, about four months. Nerve and brain cells are supposed to live forever. This is why these cells rarely regenerate and take a long time if they do.
The use of cord blood is determined by the treating physician and is influenced by many factors, including the patient’s medical condition, the characteristics of the sample, and whether the cord blood should come from the patient or an appropriately matched donor. Cord blood has established uses in transplant medicine; however, its use in regenerative medicine is still being researched. There is no guarantee that treatments being studied in the laboratory, clinical trials, or other experimental treatments will be available in the future.
Even if you don’t want to store the cord blood, highly consider donating the cord blood to local public banks. This cord blood can help patients that are on waiting lists with diseases such as leukemia.
After your baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta are usually thrown away. Because you are choosing to donate, the blood left in the umbilical cord and placenta will be collected and tested. Cord blood that meets standards for transplant will be stored at the public cord blood bank until needed by a patient. (It is not saved for your family.)
While banking cord blood is a new experience for many parents, it is a simple one. After all, most mothers are worried about how the delivery will go and don’t want to also be worried about the details of collecting, processing and cryo-preserving their babies’s cord blood. Thankfully, the healthcare provider and the cord blood bank do most of the work. Here are the steps found in cord blood banking:
Cord blood, which is harvested from the umbilical cord right after a baby is born, is marketed as a treatment for diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell disease, and as a potential source of cells for regenerative medicine – a cutting-edge field of medicine studying how to repair tissues damaged by everything from heart disease to cerebral palsy.
The umbilical cord blood contains haematopoietic stem cells – similar to those found in the bone marrow – and which can be used to generate red blood cells and cells of the immune system. Cord blood stem cells are currently used to treat a range of blood disorders and immune system conditions such as leukaemia, anaemia and autoimmune diseases. These stem cells are used largely in the treatment of children but have also started being used in adults following chemotherapy treatment.
Your baby may be able to use his or her own cord blood in the treatment of certain non-genetic diseases and cancers, like neuroblastoma. Participation in some clinical trials, like recent autism and cerebral palsy trials, require children to have access to their own cord blood.
Potential long-term risks include complications of the pretransplant chemotherapy and radiation therapy, such as infertility (the inability to produce children); cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye, which causes loss of vision); secondary (new) cancers; and damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and/or heart.
A cord blood bank may be private (i.e. the blood is stored for and the costs paid by donor families) or public (i.e. stored and made available for use by unrelated donors). While public cord blood banking is widely supported, private cord banking is controversial in both the medical and parenting community. Although umbilical cord blood is well-recognized to be useful for treating hematopoietic and genetic disorders, some controversy surrounds the collection and storage of umbilical cord blood by private banks for the baby’s use. Only a small percentage of babies (estimated at between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000) ever use the umbilical cord blood that is stored. The American Academy of Pediatrics 2007 Policy Statement on Cord Blood Banking stated: “Physicians should be aware of the unsubstantiated claims of private cord blood banks made to future parents that promise to insure infants or family members against serious illnesses in the future by use of the stem cells contained in cord blood.” and “private storage of cord blood as ‘biological insurance’ is unwise” unless there is a family member with a current or potential need to undergo a stem cell transplantation. The American Academy of Pediatrics also notes that the odds of using a person’s own cord blood is 1 in 200,000 while the Institute of Medicine says that only 14 such procedures have ever been performed.
Pregnant women sometimes have questions or concerns regarding umbilical cord blood donation. Two common questions are: Can their infant’s cord blood be used to benefit MS research? Another question: Is it worthwhile to “bank” their infant’s umbilical cord blood for the benefit of a family member who might need the umbilical stem cells for future treatment of their MS?
Dennis Michael Todd, PhD, joined Community Blood Services as its President and CEO in 2000. Community Blood Services operates the NJ Cord Blood Bank and The HLA Registry bone marrow donor center, both of which are affiliated with the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). In 2012, the blood center expects to distribute over 85,000 units of red cells and 20,000 platelets to hospitals and medical centers throughout northern NJ and Orange County, NY. Dr. Todd is presently a member of the NMDP Executive Committee and Chairman of the Finance Committee. He is a member of the International Society for Cellular Therapy (ISCT), the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), the AABB, the American Association of Bioanalysts, and the New Jersey Society of Blood Bank Professionals.
Most of the diseases on the proven treatment list are inherited genetic diseases. Typically, a child with a genetic disease would require cord blood unit from a sibling or an unrelated donor. Having a sibling cord blood unit can be a great advantage as research shows that treatments using cord blood from a family member are about twice as successful as treatments using cord blood from a non-relative.9a, 17
CBR Cord Blood Education Specialists are available 7 days a week (Monday – Friday 6 AM – 9 PM PST and Saturday – Sunday 6 AM – 4 PM PST) to respond to consumer inquiries. In addition, consumers may request to schedule a call with a CBR Cord Blood Education Specialist at a specific date and time.
The Medical Letter On Drugs and Therapeutics also recently addressed aspects of public and private cord blood banks, asking the question: “Does Private Banking Make Sense?” After citing various statistics on the actual uses of privately stored cord blood, they concluded that: “At the present time, private storage of umbilical cord blood is unlikely to be worthwhile. Parents should be encouraged to contribute, when they can, to public cord blood banks instead.” [Access The Medical Letter at www.medicalletter.org].
nbiased and factual information. The Foundation educates parents, health professionals and the general public about the need to preserve this valuable medical resource while providing information on both public cord blood donation programs and private family cord blood banks worldwide. Learn more about our global community.
If a sibling of a child whose cord blood you banked needs a transplant, then your chances of a match will be far higher than turning to the public. However, the safest bet is to bank the cord blood of all your children, safeguarding them against a number of diseases and ensuring a genetic match if necessary.
In addition to the stem cells, researchers are discovering specific uses for the other types of cells in the treatment of certain conditions. Cord blood Treg cells hold potential for preventing graft-versus-host disease in stem cell transplantations and ameliorating the effects of autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Cord blood natural killer cells also hold future potential. These cells have been programmed to target specific cancers and tumors in clinical trials. This could make them exceptionally strong candidates for chronic or treatment-resistant cases of cancer.
The use of hematopoietic stem cells, which can be found in the blood that remains in the vein of the umbilical cord and placenta after birth, is a proven treatment of more than 80 diseases. Mesenchymal stem cells, which can be found in the umbilical cord tissue and can become a host of cells including those found in your nervous system, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, skin, bone, cartilage, and more, are making progress in clinical trials. Some such trials show promise in treating strokes, heart disease, diabetes, autism, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s disease.
Choosing a bank (specifically a private bank) for her daughter’s cord blood made perfect sense to Julie Lehrman, a mom based in Chicago. “We wanted the extra assurance that we were doing everything we could to keep Lexi healthy,” Lehrman says. “I was older when Lexi was born, and there’s a lot we didn’t know about my mom’s health history, so we felt that we were making a smart decision.” Fortunately, Lexi was born healthy, and neither she nor anyone else in the family has needed the cord blood since it was stored seven years ago. But Lehrman has no regrets; she still feels the family made a wise investment. “Lexi or her brother or even one of us could still need that blood in the future, so I’m thankful that we have it.” But banking your child’s cord blood may not be the right decision for you. Read on to see if you should opt for private cord blood banking.
We offer standard and premium cord blood processing options. Our standard service has been used in thousands of successful transplants since 1988 and begins at $1600. For $350 more, our premium service uses a superior new processing method that greatly enhances parents’ return on investment. (Please visit our processing technology page to learn about our cord blood processing methods.) For an additional $950, you can also store your baby’s cord tissue, which has the potential to help heal the body in different ways than cord blood.
Parents who wish to donate cord blood are limited by whether there is a public bank that collects donations from the hospital or clinic where their baby will be born. Search our list of public banks in your country. Parents who wish to store cord blood and/or cord tissue for their family can find and compare private banks in your country. Family banks usually offer payment plans or insurance policies to lower the cost of cord blood banking.
When considering cord blood, cord tissue, and placenta tissue banking, you want all of the facts. Americord’s® Cord Blood Comparison Chart gives you information not only on our costs and services, but also on how other companies measure up.
For families that choose to bank cord blood, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends public cord blood banking. Estimates vary, but the chances of a child having a stem cell transplant, with either bone marrow or cord blood, are 1 in 217 over a lifetime. Although the AAP states cord blood has been used to treat certain diseases successfully, there isn’t strong evidence to support cord blood banking. If a family does decide on cord blood banking, the AAP recommends public cord blood banking (instead of private) to cut down on costs. If you donate cord blood and your child eventually needs it, you can get it back as long as it hasn’t been discarded or used.