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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.
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.
Cord blood can’t be used to treat everything. If your child is born with a genetic condition such as muscular dystrophy or spina bifida, then the stem cells would have that condition, says Dr. Kurtzberg. But if the cord blood donor is healthy and there is a sibling or another immediate family member who has a genetic condition, the cord blood could be a good match for them.
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.)
You’ve just visited the doctor and the good news is that you’re going to have a baby and everything looks good. Thirty years ago, your doctor may have given you a baby book and information about products that sponsors want you to buy for your new addition. Today, along with pretty much the same materials, you’ll be asked to consider saving the blood of your newborn that’s left over in the umbilical cord and placenta after the delivery. Another big decision, and possibly a costly one.
After entering the bloodstream, the stem cells travel to the bone marrow, where they begin to produce new white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets in a process known as “engraftment.” Engraftment usually occurs within about 2 to 4 weeks after transplantation. Doctors monitor it by checking blood counts on a frequent basis. Complete recovery of immune function takes much longer, however—up to several months for autologous transplant recipients and 1 to 2 years for patients receiving allogeneic or syngeneic transplants. Doctors evaluate the results of various blood tests to confirm that new blood cells are being produced and that the cancer has not returned. Bone marrow aspiration (the removal of a small sample of bone marrow through a needle for examination under a microscope) can also help doctors determine how well the new marrow is working.
The standard used to identify these cord blood banks was the number of cord blood and cord tissue units stored by each company. The purpose of this analysis is to compare pricing and services among the largest cord blood banks within the U.S., the most mature cord blood banking market in the world. These three industry giants also represent several of the largest cord blood banks worldwide.
Donating cord blood to a public bank adds to the supply and can potentially help others. Donating to a public bank is especially important for ethnic minorities, who are not well represented in cord blood banks. Public cord blood donation increases the chance of all groups finding a match.
Banking of stem cells from cord blood began in 1994 with the foundation of the New York Blood Centre Cord Blood Bank. The field of umbilical cord blood storage has matured considerably over the last two decades. We continue to learn more about the long-term effects of cryo-preservation on the cells, which has resulted in increased storage times.
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.
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.
The American Pediatric Association in 2008 recommended that physicians recommend that cord blood be donated instead of saved privately for family families. One of the major proponents for this was Joanne Kurtzberg, who profited from this by getting funding for her public cord blood bank at Duke University. She has since started her own private cord blood bank after doing more research on Cerebral Palsy. Interesting.
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.
^ Reddi, AS; Kuppasani, K; Ende, N (December 2010). “Human umbilical cord blood as an emerging stem cell therapy for diabetes mellitus”. Current stem cell research & therapy. 5 (4): 356–61. doi:10.2174/157488810793351668. PMID 20528762.
If siblings are a genetic match, a cord blood transplant is a simple procedure that is FDA approved to treat over 80 diseases. However, there are a few considerations you should make before deciding to only bank one of your children’s blood:
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.
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:
CBR was the first family bank accredited by AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks) and the company’s quality standards have been recognized through ISO 9001:2008 certification—the global business standard for quality. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has issued cord blood regulations, and the states of California, Illinois, Maryland, New York and New Jersey have mandatory licensing for cord blood banking. The stringent laboratory processes, record keeping, quality control and quality assurance of CBR are designed to meet all federal and state guidelines and regulations.
In March 2004, the European Union Group on Ethics (EGE) has issued Opinion No.19 titled Ethical Aspects of Umbilical Cord Blood Banking. The EGE concluded that “[t]he legitimacy of commercial cord blood banks for autologous use should be questioned as they sell a service, which has presently, no real use regarding therapeutic options. Thus they promise more than they can deliver. The activities of such banks raise serious ethical criticisms.”
Luckily for expectant parents, cord blood can be easily collected at the baby’s birth via the umbilical cord with no harm to the mother or baby. This is why pregnancy is a great time to plan to collect and bank a baby’s cord blood.
Research is being conducted using cord blood cells to analyze immune response and other factors that may eventually shed light on causes and treatment of MS. However, at present there is no treatment available involving cord blood cells. Nor do we know of any sites that are looking for cord blood specifically for MS research.
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.
With public cord blood banks, there’s a greater chance that your cord blood will be put to use because it could be given to any child or adult in need, says William T. Shearer, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics and Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Cord blood is donated and is put on a national registry, to be made available for any transplant patient. So if your child should need the cord blood later in life, there’s no guarantee you would be able to get it back.
In Europe and other parts of the world, cord blood banking is more often referred to as stem cell banking. As banking cord blood is designed more to collect the blood-forming stem cells and not the actual blood cells themselves, this term may be more appropriate.
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.
There are no health risks related to cord blood collection. Cord blood is retrieved from the umbilical cord after it has been cut, thus preventing any pain, discomfort, or harm. This process is completely safe.
After all is said and done, the cost to collect, test, process and store a donated cord blood collection at a public bank is estimated to be $1,200 to $1,500 dollars for each unit banked. That does not include the expense for the regulatory and quality systems needed to maintain licensure, or the cost of collecting units that are discarded because they don’t meet standards.
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.
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.