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Umbilical cord blood was once discarded as waste material but is now known to be a useful source of blood stem cells. Cord blood has been used to treat children with certain blood diseases since 1989 and research on using it to treat adults is making progress. So what are the current challenges for cord blood research and how may it be used – now and in the future?
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.
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.
Cord blood in public banks is available to unrelated patients who need haematopoietic stem cell transplants. Some banks, such as the NHS bank in the UK, also collect and store umbilical cord blood from children born into families affected by or at risk of a disease for which haematopoietic stem cell transplants may be necessary – either for the child, a sibling or a family member. It is also possible to pay to store cord blood in a private bank for use by your own family only.
You and your baby’s personal information are always kept private by the public cord blood bank. The cord blood unit is given a number at the hospital, and this is how it is listed on the registry and at the public cord blood bank.
Donors to public banks must be screened for blood or immune system disorders or other problems. With a cord blood donation, the mother’s blood is tested for genetic disorders and infections, and the cord blood also is tested after it is collected. Once it arrives at the blood bank, the cord blood is “typed.” It is tracked by a computer so that it can be found quickly for any person who matches when needed.
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.
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.
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.
All medical costs for the donation procedure are covered by Be The Match®, or by the patient’s medical insurance, as are travel expenses and other non-medical costs. The only costs to the donor might be time taken off from work.
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Sign a consent form to donate. This consent form says that the donated cord blood may be used by any patient needing a transplant. If the cord blood cannot be used for transplantation, it may be used in research studies or thrown away. These studies help future patients have a more successful transplant.
To minimize potential side effects, doctors most often use transplanted stem cells that match the patient’s own stem cells as closely as possible. People have different sets of proteins, called human leukocyte-associated (HLA) antigens, on the surface of their cells. The set of proteins, called the HLA type, is identified by a special blood test.
There are options for relieving the financial burden associated with BMT and PBSCT. A hospital social worker is a valuable resource in planning for these financial needs. Federal government programs and local service organizations may also be able to help.
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.
^ Roura, S; Pujal, JM; Gálvez-Montón, C; Bayes-Genis, A (2 July 2015). “The role and potential of umbilical cord blood in an era of new therapies: a review”. Stem cell research & therapy. 6: 123. doi:10.1186/s13287-015-0113-2. PMC 4489204 . PMID 26133757.
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.
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.
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.
The unpredictability of stem cell transportation led CBR to create a crush-resistant, temperature-protected, and electronically tracked collection kit that is designed to preserve the integrity and to help ensure the safe delivery of the blood and/or tissue. CBR’s CellAdvantage® Collection Kit contains everything the healthcare provider needs to easily and safely collect the maximum amount of a newborn’s cord blood following birth.
^ 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Leading the Way LifeSaving Ambassadors Club is a recognition program honoring sponsor groups for outstanding performance in reaching or exceeding blood drive collections goals. CBC presents a Leading the Way plaque to winning sponsors on an annual basis. The award is based on three levels of achievement:
The cord blood collection process is simple, safe, and painless. The process usually takes no longer than five minutes. Cord blood collection does not interfere with delivery and is possible with both vaginal and cesarean deliveries.
AutoXpress™ Platform (AXP) cord blood processing results in a red-cell reduced stem cell product. Each sample is stored in a cryobag consisting of two compartments (one major and one minor) and two integrally attached segments used for unit testing.