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Umbilical cord blood contains haematopoietic (blood) stem cells. These cells are able to make the different types of cell in the blood – red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Haematopoietic stem cells, purified from bone marrow or blood, have long been used in stem cell treatments for leukaemia, blood and bone marrow disorders, cancer (when chemotherapy is used) and immune deficiencies.
Your body has many different types of cells (more than 200 to be more exact) each geared towards specific functions. You have skin cells and blood cells, and you have bone cells and brain cells. All your organs comprise specific cells, too, from kidney cells to heart cells.
Most text on the National Cancer Institute website may be reproduced or reused freely. The National Cancer Institute should be credited as the source and a link to this page included, e.g., “Blood-Forming Stem Cell Transplants was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”
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.
Tracey Dones of Hicksville, N.Y., paid to bank her son Anthony’s cord blood. But four months after he was born, Anthony was diagnosed with osteopetrosis, a rare disease that causes the body to produce excess bone, leads to blindness, and can be fatal if left untreated.
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.
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.
Cord blood donation doesn’t cost anything for parents. Public cord blood banks pay for everything which includes the collection, testing, and storing of umbilical cord blood. This means that cord blood donation is not possible in every hospital.
With allogeneic transplants, GVHD sometimes develops when white blood cells from the donor (the graft) identify cells in the patient’s body (the host) as foreign and attack them. The most commonly damaged organs are the skin, liver, and intestines. This complication can develop within a few weeks of the transplant (acute GVHD) or much later (chronic GVHD). To prevent this complication, the patient may receive medications that suppress the immune system. Additionally, the donated stem cells can be treated to remove the white blood cells that cause GVHD in a process called “T-cell depletion.” If GVHD develops, it can be very serious and is treated with steroids or other immunosuppressive agents. GVHD can be difficult to treat, but some studies suggest that patients with leukemia who develop GVHD are less likely to have the cancer come back. Clinical trials are being conducted to find ways to prevent and treat GVHD.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston is conducting a pioneering FDA-regulated phase I/II clinical trial to compare the safety and effectiveness of two forms of stem cell therapy in children diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study aims to compare the safety and efficacy of an intravenous infusion of autologous cord blood stem cells to bone marrow stem cells.
Banked cord blood is most abundant in white blood cells and stem cells. While a lot of attention is paid to the stem cells, there are approximately 10 times more total nucleated cells (TNCs) than stem cells in any cord blood collection. TNCs are basically white blood cells, or leukocytes; they are the cells of the immune system that protect the body. Despite stem cells comprising one-tenth of most collections, cord blood is still considered a rich source of hematopoietic (he-mah-toe-po-ee-tic) stem cells (HSCs). HSCs are often designated by the marker CD34+. Hematopoietic stem cells can become two categories of cells: myeloid and lymphoid cells. Myeloid cells go on to form your red blood cells, platelets, and other cells of the blood. Lymphoid cells go on to become the B cells and T cells and are the basis for the immune system. Cord blood also contains mesenchymal (meh-sen-ki-mal) stem cells (MSCs), but they are much more abundant in cord tissue, which we will discuss in a minute.
Donating cord blood to a public cord blood bank involves talking with your doctor or midwife about your decision to donate and then calling a cord blood bank (if donation can be done at your hospital). Upon arriving at the hospital, tell the labor and delivery nurse that you are donating umbilical cord blood.
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.
Companies throughout Europe also offer commercial (private) banking of umbilical cord blood. A baby’s cord blood is stored in case they or a family member develop a condition that could be treated by a cord blood transplant. Typically, companies charge an upfront collection fee plus an annual storage fee.
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?
The stem cells used in PBSCT come from the bloodstream. A process called apheresis or leukapheresis is used to obtain PBSCs for transplantation. For 4 or 5 days before apheresis, the donor may be given a medication to increase the number of stem cells released into the bloodstream. In apheresis, blood is removed through a large vein in the arm or a central venous catheter (a flexible tube that is placed in a large vein in the neck, chest, or groin area). The blood goes through a machine that removes the stem cells. The blood is then returned to the donor and the collected cells are stored. Apheresis typically takes 4 to 6 hours. The stem cells are then frozen until they are given to the recipient.
A large challenge facing many areas of medical research and treatments is correcting misinformation. Some companies advertise services to parents suggesting they should pay to freeze their child’s cord blood in a blood bank in case it’s needed later in life. Studies show it is highly unlikely that the cord blood will ever be used for their child. However, clinicians strongly support donating cord blood to public blood banks. This greatly helps increase the supply of cord blood to people who need it.
There is not one right answer. Your family’s medical history and personal preferences will play a major role in this decision process. However, we can help you make sense of the available options. Continue to follow our guide on cord blood to understand what is the best choice for your family.
When the collection is complete, we send a courier to your location to pick up your collection kit and transport it to ViaCord’s Processing Lab. Once at our lab, our lab specialist get to work processing the cord blood to get you the highest volume and quality of stem cells possible.
Tracey said she felt lucky since she banked Anthony’s cord blood with a private company. And Osteopetrosis is one of 80 diseases listed by many cord blood companies in their marketing material as treatable with stem cells.
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.
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.
Your baby’s newborn stem cells are transported to our banking facilities by our medical courier partner, and you can receive tracking updates. Each sample is processed and stored with great care at our laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. CBR’s Quality Standard means we test every cord blood sample for specific quality metrics.
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There are a number of different processing methods out there for a cord blood bank to use, and the processing method can ultimately affect the purity of the final product, which we’ll explain in a minute. Once the stem and immune system cells have been isolated and extracted from the plasma and red blood cell, they are mixed with a cryo-protectant and stored in a cryo-bag. We overwrap our bags for added protection and use a technique called “controlled-rate freezing” to prepare the cells for long-term storage. The overwrapped cryo-bag is housed in a protective metal cassette and placed in vapor-phase liquid nitrogen freezer for long-term preservation.
Cord blood (short for umbilical cord blood) is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta post-delivery. At or near term, there is a maternal–fetal transfer of cells to boost the immune systems of both the mother and baby in preparation for labor. This makes cord blood at the time of delivery a rich source of stem cells and other cells of the immune system. Cord blood banking is the process of collecting the cord blood and extracting and cryogenically freezing its stem cells and other cells of the immune system for potential future medical use.
An HLA match helps ensure the body accepts the new cell and the transplant is successful. It also reduces the risk of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), which is when the transplanted cells attack the recipient’s body. GVHD occurs in 30%–40% of recipients when they aren’t a perfect match but the donor is still related. If the donor and recipient are not related, it increases to a 60%–80% risk. The better the match, the more likely any GVHD symptoms will be mild, if they suffer from GVHD at all. Unfortunately, GVHD can also be deadly.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy generally affect cells that divide rapidly. They are used to treat cancer because cancer cells divide more often than most healthy cells. However, because bone marrow cells also divide frequently, high-dose treatments can severely damage or destroy the patient’s bone marrow. Without healthy bone marrow, the patient is no longer able to make the blood cells needed to carry oxygen, fight infection, and prevent bleeding. BMT and PBSCT replace stem cells destroyed by treatment. The healthy, transplanted stem cells can restore the bone marrow’s ability to produce the blood cells the patient needs.
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.
Both public and family cord blood banks must register with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and since Oct. 2011 public banks also need to apply for an FDA license. All cord blood banks are required by federal law to test the blood of the mother for infectious diseases. At public banks the screening is usually more extensive, similar to the tests performed when you donate blood. The typical expense to a public bank is $150 per unit.
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.
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.
Your cells didn’t start out knowing how to come together to form your bones, heart or blood; they begun with more of a blank slate. These completely undifferentiated cells can be found during gestation, or the time the baby is in the womb, and are called embryonic stem cells. These early stage stem cells are master cells that have the potential to become any type of cell in the body.
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: