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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 first cord blood transplant was performed in Paris on October 6, 1988. Since that time, over 1 million cord blood units have been collected and stored in public and family banks all over the world.
Cade Hildreth is the Founder of BioInformant.com, the world’s largest publisher of stem cell industry news. Cade is a media expert on stem cells, recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Business Journal, Xconomy, and Vogue Magazine.
Currently, ViaCord has released the most cord blood units for medical transplant and has the highest cord blood transplant survival rate among companies who have disclosed complete transplant data. The one-year survival rate of patients who were treated with ViaCord cord blood units is 88%, and the long-term patient survival rate is 82%.1
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.
Cord tissue is rich in another type of stem cell. Although there are no current uses, researchers are excited about the benefits cord tissue stem cells may offer in potential future users, such as regenerative medicine. By storing both, you’ll have potential access to more possibilities
Lack of awareness is the #1 reason why cord blood is most often thrown away. For most pregnant mothers, their doctor does not even mention the topic. If a parent wants to save cord blood, they must be pro-active.
For example, in the UK the NHS Cord Blood Bank has been collecting and banking altruistically donated umbilical cord blood since 1996. The cord blood in public banks like this is stored indefinitely for possible transplant, and is available for any patient that needs this special tissue type. There is no charge to the donor but the blood is not stored specifically for that person or their family.
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.
Unlike traditional BMT or PBSCT, cells from both the donor and the patient may exist in the patient’s body for some time after a mini-transplant. Once the cells from the donor begin to engraft, they may cause the GVT effect and work to destroy the cancer cells that were not eliminated by the anticancer drugs and/or radiation. To boost the GVT effect, the patient may be given an injection of the donor’s white blood cells. This procedure is called a “donor lymphocyte infusion.”
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.
Current applications for newborn stem cells include treatments for certain cancers and blood, metabolic and immune disorders. Additionally, newborn stem cell preservation has a great potential to benefit the newborn’s immediate family members with stem cell samples preserved in their most pristine state.
Bone marrow transplantation (BMT) and peripheral blood stem cell transplantation (PBSCT) are procedures that restore stem cells that have been destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. There are three types of transplants:
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.
Are public banks and family banks the same, except for who may use the cord blood and the cost to the parents? No. Public banks are subject to much higher regulatory requirements, and compliance with regulations carries costs. At a family bank you pay the bank enough to cover the cost of storing your baby’s cord blood, plus they make a profit. When you donate to a public bank, it costs you nothing, but the bank pays more on processing each blood collection than at a family bank. Let’s look at the steps that take place in the laboratory.
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.
If clients need to use the cord blood stem cells stored with CBR for transplantation and the cells fail to engraft, clients receive a full refund of all fees paid to CBR for cord blood services plus an additional $50,000.
Your free donation will be part of a program that is saving lives and supporting research to discover new uses for cord blood stem cells. Units that meet criteria for storage are made available to anyone, anywhere in the world, who needs a stem cell transplant.
We believe that every family should have the opportunity to preserve their baby’s newborn stem cells. That’s why CBR offers transparent costs of cord blood banking, and various payment options to fit this important step into almost every family budget.
^ a b c d e f Juric, MK; et al. (9 November 2016). “Milestones of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation – From First Human Studies to Current Developments”. Frontiers in Immunology. 7: 470. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2016.00470. PMC 5101209 . PMID 27881982.
The harvested bone marrow is then processed to remove blood and bone fragments. Harvested bone marrow can be combined with a preservative and frozen to keep the stem cells alive until they are needed. This technique is known as cryopreservation. Stem cells can be cryopreserved for many years.
This and all other stem cell therapies since involve introducing new stem cells into the area to encourage the healing process. Often, the stem cell will create a particular type of cell simply because it is in proximity to other cells of that type. Unfortunately, researchers still had a ways to go before they could use stem cells from unrelated persons.
Private companies offer to store cord blood for anyone who wants it done, whether or not there is any medical reason known to do so at the time. The fee for private storage varies, but averages about $1,500 up front and $100 per year for storage. When there is no one in the family who needs a transplant, private storage of a newborn’s cord blood is done for a purely speculative purpose that some companies have termed “biological insurance.”
Beyond these blood-related disorders, the therapeutic potential of umbilical cord blood stem cells is unclear. No therapies for non-blood-related diseases have yet been developed using HSCs from either cord blood or adult bone marrow. There have been several reports suggesting that umbilical cord blood contains other types of stem cells that are able to produce cells from other tissues, such as nerve cells. Some other reports claim that umbilical cord blood contains embryonic stem cell-like cells. However, these findings are highly controversial among scientists and are not widely accepted.
The stem cells used in BMT come from the liquid center of the bone, called the marrow. In general, the procedure for obtaining bone marrow, which is called “harvesting,” is similar for all three types of BMTs (autologous, syngeneic, and allogeneic). The donor is given either general anesthesia, which puts the person to sleep during the procedure, or regional anesthesia, which causes loss of feeling below the waist. Needles are inserted through the skin over the pelvic (hip) bone or, in rare cases, the sternum (breastbone), and into the bone marrow to draw the marrow out of the bone. Harvesting the marrow takes about an hour.
Excitement about cord tissue’s potential to help conditions affecting cartilage, muscle and nerve cells continues to grow.19 Researchers are focusing on a wide range of potential treatment areas, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, liver fibrosis, lung cancer, and sports injuries. Since 2007 there have been 150 clinical trials using cord tissue stem cells.
Because identical twins have the same genes, they have the same set of HLA antigens. As a result, the patient’s body will accept a transplant from an identical twin. However, identical twins represent a small number of all births, so syngeneic transplantation is rare.
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?
Advances in treatment methods, including the use of PBSCT, have reduced the amount of time many patients must spend in the hospital by speeding recovery. This shorter recovery time has brought about a reduction in cost. However, because BMT and PBSCT are complicated technical procedures, they are very expensive. Many health insurance companies cover some of the costs of transplantation for certain types of cancer. Insurers may also cover a portion of the costs if special care is required when the patient returns home.
The process used to collect cord blood is simple and painless. After the baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut and clamped. Blood is drawn from the cord with a needle that has a bag attached. The process takes about 10 minutes.
The main reason for this requirement is to give the cord blood bank enough time to complete the enrollment process. For the safety of any person who might receive the cord blood donation, the mother must pass a health history screening. And for ethical reasons, the mother must give informed consent.
A mini-transplant uses lower, less toxic doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation to prepare the patient for an allogeneic transplant. The use of lower doses of anticancer drugs and radiation eliminates some, but not all, of the patient’s bone marrow. It also reduces the number of cancer cells and suppresses the patient’s immune system to prevent rejection of the transplant.