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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.
“This is a medical service that has to be done when your baby’s cells arrive and you certainly want them to be handled by good equipment and good technicians,” says Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to educating parents about cord blood donation and cord blood therapists. “It’s just not going to be cheap.” 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 reduce costs.
There are some hospitals that have dedicated collections staff who can process mothers at the last minute when they arrive to deliver the baby. However, in the United States that is the exception to the rule.
Stem cells are able to transform into other types of cells in the body to create new growth and development. They are also the building blocks of the immune system. The transformation of these cells provides doctors with a way to treat leukemia and some inherited health disorders.
^ 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.
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.
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.
Throughout pregnancy your baby’s umbilical nurtures life. It’s carries oxygen rich cells and nutrients from your placenta to your baby, and then allows your baby to pump deoxygenated and nutrient depleted blood back to your placenta. This constant exchange is protected by a special type of tissue that acts like a cushion, preventing twisting and compression to ensure that the cord blood flow remains steady and constant.
If you want the blood stored, after the birth, the doctor clamps the umbilical cord in two places, about 10 inches apart, and cuts the cord, separating mother from baby. Then she inserts a needle and collects at least 40 milliliters of blood from the cord. The blood is sealed in a bag and sent to a lab or cord blood bank for testing and storage. The process only takes a few minutes and is painless for mother and baby.
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:
This and all other stem cell therapies since involve introducing new stem cells into the area to encourage the healing process. Often, the stem cell will create a particular type of cell simply because it is in proximity to other cells of that type. Unfortunately, researchers still had a ways to go before they could use stem cells from unrelated persons.
Cord blood is collected by your obstetrician or the staff at the hospital where you give birth. Not all hospitals offer this service. Some charge a separate fee that may or may not be covered by insurance.
Once you arrive at the hospital, all you need to worry about is having a safe birth. There are a few minor things that you and your family must remember at the hospital, but your priority should be birth and spending time with your newborn.
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.
Finally, the healthy stem cells are placed into long-term cryogenic storage. Compared to other stem cell sources, cord blood units are available very quickly since a doctor can remove them from storage and send them to the transplant hospital within a few days.
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.
Parents sign a consent form, giving the public bank permission to add their child’s cord blood to a database. This database will match transplant patients with a suitable donor. No information about the donor, or their family, is displayed online. The website used in America is Be The Match. They maintain a database of donations and banks across the country, while also working with foreign banks. Your child’s cord blood could save someone living anywhere in the world.
Scientists first found ways to use stem cells in bone marrow, and following this discovery, the first stem cell transplant was performed in 1956 via bone marrow between identical twins. It resulted in the complete remission of the one twin’s leukemia.
Stem cells can be used in treatments for many different types of diseases. One of the main places young stem cells are found is in cord blood, which can be stored at birth and saved for future use if needed. Stem cells are also found in other places in the human body, including blood and bone marrow.
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.
Several research teams have reported studies in animals suggesting that cord blood can repair tissues other than blood, in diseases ranging from heart attacks to strokes. These findings are controversial: scientists often cannot reproduce such results and it is not clear HOW cord blood may be having such effects. When beneficial effects are observed they may be very slight and not significant enough to be useful for developing treatments. If there are positive effects, they might be explained not by cord blood cells making nerve or heart cells, but by the cells in the cord blood releasing substances that help the body repair damage.
CBR is committed to advancing the science of newborn stem cells. We’ve awarded a grant to the Cord Blood Association, to help fund a multi-center clinical trial researching the use of cord blood for children with autism and cerebral palsy.
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Sign a consent form. While there is a chance of the donor family using their child’s cord blood, by signing the consent form, you’re giving the public bank rights to your child’s blood. They can use it as a treatment for any patient, unless your family needs the stem cells first.
Since most banks require mothers to sign up for donation between the 28th and 34th week of pregnancy, families must decide to donate ahead of time. If you are considering a public bank for your child’s cord blood, contact the bank and make sure you still have time.