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The blood that remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta after birth is called “cord blood”. Umbilical cord blood, umbilical cord tissue, and the placenta are all very rich sources of newborn stem cells. The stem cells in the after birth are not embryonic. Most of the stem cells in cord blood are blood-forming or hematopoietic stem cells. Most of the stem cells in cord tissue and the placenta are mesenchymal stem cells.
Remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta is approx. 40–120 milliliters of cord blood. The healthcare provider will extract the cord blood from the umbilical cord at no risk or harm to the baby or mother.
Cord blood holds promise for future medical procedures. Scientists are still studying more ways to treat more diseases with cord blood. At Duke University, for example, researchers are using patients’ own cord blood in trials for cerebral palsy and Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (a condition in which the brain does not receive enough oxygen). Trials are also under way for the treatment of autism at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute in Sacramento, California.
The Cord Blood Registry (CBR) is unique, because it is currently the world’s largest cord blood bank, with over a half-million cord blood and cord tissue units stored to date. This is substantially more than its nearest competitor, ViaCord, which has 350,000 units stored. It was recently acquired by pharmaceutical giant, AMAG Pharmaceuticals, for $700 million in June 2015.
However, cord blood transplants also have limitations. Treatment of adults with cord blood typically requires two units of cord blood to treat one adult. Clinical trials using “double cord blood transplantation” for adults have demonstrated outcomes similar to use of other sources of HSCs, such as bone marrow or mobilized peripheral blood. Current studies are being done to expand a single cord blood unit for use in adults. Cord blood can also only be used to treat blood diseases. No therapies for non-blood-related diseases have yet been developed using HSCs from either cord blood or adult bone marrow.
As the research into umbilical cord blood and it’s therapeutic use for blood diseases has grown, so has the question as to whether people should privately store the cord blood of their offspring for future use. A recent paper on this issue by Mahendra Rao and colleagues advocates the practice of cord blood banking (for treatment of blood diseases) but in the context of public cord blood banks rather than a private cord blood banks. Any adult needing treated would need at least two cord blood samples that are immune compatible. So one sample will not be sufficient. A child might only need one cord blood sample but in the case of childhood leukaemia there is a risk that pre-leukemic cells are present in cord blood sample – and so the child could not use their own cells for therapy.
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Cord blood contains mesenchymal stem cells but is much more abundant in hematopoietic stem cells. Cord tissue, on the other hand, contains some hematopoietic stem cells but is much richer in mesenchymal stem cells. Cord tissue, or Wharton’s jelly, is the protective layer that covers the umbilical cord’s vein and other vessels. Its MSCs can become a host of cells including those found in the nervous system, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, skin, bone, cartilage, and more. MSCs are currently undergoing clinical trials for sports injuries, heart and kidney disease, ALS, wound healing and autoimmune disease. As with cord blood, cord tissue is easily collected at the type of birth and holds great potential in regenerative medicine. Learn more about cord tissue banking here.
Lead image of baby’s umbilical cord from Wikimedia Commons. Possible human blood stem cell image by Rajeev Gupta and George Chennell. Remaining images of blood sample bags and red blood cells from Wellcome Images.
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.
Current research aims to answer these questions in order to establish whether safe and effective treatments for non-blood diseases could be developed in the future using cord blood. An early clinical trial investigating cord blood treatment of childhood type 1 diabetes was unsuccessful. Other very early stage clinical trials are now exploring the use of cord blood transplants to treat children with brain disorders such as cerebral palsy or traumatic brain injury. However, such trials have not yet shown any positive effects and most scientists believe much more laboratory research is needed to understand how cord blood cells behave and whether they may be useful in these kinds of treatments
Prices subject to change until they are paid. Fees apply to single-birth, U.S. customers only. Cancellation fees may apply. All major credit cards accepted. Payment plans cover first-year fees only; future annual storage fees are not included. If not paying by credit/debit card, total first year fees are due at the time of enrollment.
Cancellations prior to CBR’s storage of the samples(s) are subject to an administrative fee of $150. If you terminate your agreement with CBR after storage of the sample(s), you will not receive a refund.
Your child may never need it. Stem cell-rich cord blood can be used to treat a range of diseases, but Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, estimates that there’s only a 1 in 217 chance that your child will ever need a stem cell transplant with cord blood (or bone marrow). This is particularly true if the child doesn’t have a family history of diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, or sickle cell anemia. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (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 choose to bank cord blood, the AAP recommends public cord blood banking (instead of private) to cut down on expenditures.
^ Caseiro, AR; Pereira, T; Ivanova, G; Luís, AL; Maurício, AC (2016). “Neuromuscular Regeneration: Perspective on the Application of Mesenchymal Stem Cells and Their Secretion Products”. Stem Cells International. 2016: 9756973. doi:10.1155/2016/9756973. PMC 4736584 . PMID 26880998.
You certainly should, especially if you have a family history of any diseases or conditions that could be treated with cord blood stem cells. Since there is only a 25% chance of a match, you should bank the cord blood of each individual child if you have the means.
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports efforts to provide information about the potential benefits and limitations of cord blood banking and transplantation so that parents can make an informed decision. In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that if a patient requests information on umbilical cord blood banking, balanced information should be given. Cord blood education is also supported by legislators at the federal and state levels. In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences published an Institute of Medicine (IoM) report titled “Establishing a National Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank Program”.
Cord blood banking means preserving the newborn stem cells found in the blood of the umbilical cord and the placenta. After a baby is born, and even after delayed cord clamping, there is blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta that holds valuable newborn stem cells. Parents have a choice between donating cord blood to a public bank for free, or paying to store it for their family in a private bank. Cord blood banking includes the whole process from collection through storage of newborn stem cells for future medical purposes.
^ Li, T; Xia, M; Gao, Y; Chen, Y; Xu, Y (2015). “Human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells: an overview of their potential in cell-based therapy”. Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy. 15 (9): 1293–306. doi:10.1517/14712598.2015.1051528. PMID 26067213.
A “tandem transplant” is a type of autologous transplant. This method is being studied in clinical trials for the treatment of several types of cancer, including multiple myeloma and germ cell cancer. During a tandem transplant, a patient receives two sequential courses of high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant. Typically, the two courses are given several weeks to several months apart. Researchers hope that this method can prevent the cancer from recurring (coming back) at a later time.
Umbilical cord blood is useful for research. For example, researchers are investigating ways to grow and multiply haematopoietic (blood) stem cells from cord blood so that they can be used in more types of treatments and for adult patients as well as children. Cord blood can also be donated altruistically for clinical use. Since 1989, umbilical cord blood transplants have been used to treat children who suffer from leukaemia, anaemias and other blood diseases.
Some parents-to-be are sold on the advertising that banking their child’s cord blood could potentially treat an array of diseases the child, or his siblings, could encounter in their lives. Other parents-to-be may find all the promises too good to be true.
Some financial aid is available for families that opt for private cord blood banking. If you have a sick child who could benefit from umbilical cord blood, some cord blood banks offer programs in which the bank will cover free cord blood processing and storage if the baby has a biological sibling with certain diseases. Certain insurance companies may pitch in if that sibling needs to be treated with the cord blood in the near future, Dr. Verter says.
First isolated in 1998, there is a lot of controversy around acquiring embryonic stem cells. Thankfully, we can also acquire the stem cells that form just a little bit later down the road, like in the umbillical cord tissue. These stem cells, known as adult stem cells, stay with us for life. (Later, we will learn why not all adult stem cells are equal.) Adult stem cells are more limited in the types of cells they can become, something known as being tissue-specific, but share many of the same qualities. Hematopoietic stem cells (Greek “to make blood” and pronounced he-mah-toe-po-ee-tic) found in the umbilical cord’s blood, for instance, can become any of the different types of blood cells found in the body and are the foundation of our immune system. Another example is mesenchymal (meh-sen-ki-mal) 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.
There are usually two fees involved in cord blood banking. The first is the initial fee that covers enrollment, collection, and storage for at least the first year. The second is an annual storage fee. Some facilities vary the initial fee based upon the length of a predetermined period of storage.
In this way, cord blood offers a useful alternative to bone marrow transplants for some patients. It is easier to collect than bone marrow and can be stored frozen until it is needed. It also seems to be less likely than bone marrow to cause immune rejection or complications such as Graft versus Host Disease. This means that cord blood does not need to be as perfectly matched to the patient as bone marrow (though some matching is still necessary).
A stem cell has the potential to become one of many different types of cells. Stem cells are unique cells: They have the ability to become many different types of cells, and they can replicate rapidly. Stem cells play a huge part in the body’s healing process, and the introduction of new stem cells has always showed great promise in the treatment of many conditions. It wasn’t until we found out where and how to isolate these cells that we started using them for transplants. Although a person’s own stem cells are always 100 percent compatible, there are risks in using someone else’s stem cells, especially if the donor and recipient are not immediately related. The discovery of certain markers allows us to see how compatible a donor’s and host’s cells will be. The relatively recent discovery of stem cells in the umbilical cord’s blood has proven advantageous over acquiring stem cells from other sources. Researchers are currently conducting clinical trials with stem cells, adding to the growing list of 80 diseases which they can treat.
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