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Most stored cord blood is discarded. At public cord blood banks, a unit of stored cord blood has a greater chance of being used to help a sick child or used toward stem cell research. Private cord blood banks, on the other hand, eventually throw away blood that a family no longer wants to store or use.
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.
Meet Dylan. Diagnosed with leukemia at just 8 weeks old, he received a life-saving cord blood transplant at 6 months old. Today, Dylan is growing up strong, going to school, travelling with his family and just having fun being a kid!
When the medical courier delivers the cord blood collection kit to the cord blood bank, it is quickly processed to ensure the continued viability of the stem cells and immune system cells found in the cord blood. Firstly, a sample of the cord blood is tested for microbiological contamination, and the mother’s blood is tested for infectious diseases. As these tests are being conducted, the cord blood is processed to reduce the number of red blood cells and its total volume and isolate the stem cells and immune cells.
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.
The other way the body creates more cells is through its stem cells, and stem cells do things a little differently. They undergo what is called asymmetric division, forming not one but two daughter cells: one cell often an exact replica of itself, a new stem cell with a relatively clean slate, and another stem cell that is ready to turn into a specific type of cell. This trait is known as self-renewal and allows stem cells to proliferate, or reproduce rapidly.
The blood within your baby’s umbilical cord is called ‘cord blood’ for short. Cord blood contains the same powerful stem cells that help your baby develop organs, blood, tissue, and an immune system during pregnancy. After your baby is born, and even after delayed cord clamping, there is blood left over in the umbilical cord that can be collected and saved, or ‘banked.’
In most cases, the success of allogeneic transplantation depends in part on how well the HLA antigens of the donor’s stem cells match those of the recipient’s stem cells. The higher the number of matching HLA antigens, the greater the chance that the patient’s body will accept the donor’s stem cells. In general, patients are less likely to develop a complication known as graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) if the stem cells of the donor and patient are closely matched.
Cord blood is used the same way that hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is used to reconstitute bone marrow following radiation treatment for various blood cancers, and for various forms of anemia. Its efficacy is similar as well.
Most cells can make copies only of themselves. For example, a skin cell only can make another skin cell. Hematopoietic stem cells, however, can mature into different types of blood cells in the body. Hematopoietic stem cells also are found in blood and bone marrow in adults and children.
Cord blood is also being studied as a substitute for normal blood transfusions in the developing world. More research is necessary prior to the generalized utilization of cord blood transfusion.
As noted earlier, with better matching, there is a greater chance of success and less risk of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) in any stem cell transplant. With cord blood, the baby’s own cells are always a perfect match and share little risk. When using cord blood across identical twins, there is also a very low chance of GvHD although mutations and biological changes caused by epigenetic factors can occur. Other blood-related family members have a 35%–45% chance of GvHD, and unrelated persons have a 60%–80% chance of suffering from GvHD.
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.
Though uses of cord blood beyond blood and immunological disorders is speculative, some research has been done in other areas. Any such potential beyond blood and immunological uses is limited by the fact that cord cells are hematopoietic stem cells (which can differentiate only into blood cells), and not pluripotent stem cells (such as embryonic stem cells, which can differentiate into any type of tissue). Cord blood has been studied as a treatment for diabetes. However, apart from blood disorders, the use of cord blood for other diseases is not in routine clinical use and remains a major challenge for the stem cell community.
Since 1989, umbilical cord blood has been used successfully to treat children with leukaemia, anaemias and other blood diseases. Researchers are now looking at ways of increasing the number of haematopoietic stem cells that can be obtained from cord blood, so that they can be used to treat adults routinely too.
There are over 130 public cord blood banks in 35 countries. They are regulated by Governments and adhere to internationally agreed standards regarding safety, sample quality and ethical issues. In the UK, several NHS facilities within the National Blood Service harvest and store altruistically donated umbilical cord blood. Trained staff, working separately from those providing care to the mother and newborn child, collect the cord blood. The mother may consent to donate the blood for research and/or clinical use and the cord blood bank will make the blood available for use as appropriate.
To recap, we have certain types of stem cells that can become a variety of different cells—they are like the renaissance men of cells—but there is one more thing that makes stem cells special. This has to do with how they replicate themselves.
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.
As noted, there are different ways to process cord blood, and although the type of processing method doesn’t always enter the conversation on cord blood banking, it is a big part of the purity of any cord blood collection. Red blood cells can have a negative impact on a cord blood transfusion. In addition, there is a certain number of stem cells that need to be present in order for the cord blood to be effective in disease treatment. Each processing method has the ability to better reduce the number of RBCs and capture more stem cells. Some processing methods like AutoXpress and Sepax are automated to ensure a level of consistency across all collections. HES is preferred by some banks because it was the original processing method used by most banks and it has a proven track record. You can read more about the different cord blood processing methods here.
If everyone donated cord blood to public registries for the ‘common good’ this would increase the chances of someone benefiting from a double cord blood transplant. This far outweights the actual probability of the person who donated the sample being able to usefully use it for themself.
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.
Our annual storage fee is due every year on the birth date of the child and covers the cost of storage until the following birthday. The fee is the same $150 for both our standard and our premium cord blood services. The annual cord tissue storage fee is an additional $150.
Banking cord blood is a new type of medical protection, and there are a lot of questions that parents may want to ask. The Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood organization even has questions it believes all parents should ask their cord blood banks. We have answers to these and other frequently asked cord blood questions in our FAQs. If you can’t find the answer for which you are looking, please feel free to engage one of our cord blood educators through the website’s chat interface.