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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?
Medical staff at the public cord blood bank will check to see if you can donate. If you have had a disease that can be given to another person through blood-forming cells, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV (the AIDS virus), you will likely not be able to donate. However, other medical reasons may still allow you to donate, for example, hepatitis A or diabetes only during your pregnancy (gestational diabetes). The staff at the public cord blood bank will tell you.
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.
Cord Blood Registry (CBR) is a private bank that offers collection and long-term storage of both cord blood and cord tissue. With more than 700,000 stored units, CBR is one of the largest of the cord blood banks.
Another type of cell that can also be collected from umbilical cord blood are mesenchymal stromal cells. These cells can grown into bone, cartilage and other types of tissues and are being used in many research studies to see if patients could benefit from these cells too.
We believe that every family should have the opportunity to preserve their baby’s newborn stem cells. That’s why CBR offers transparent costs of cord blood banking, and various payment options to fit this important step into almost every family budget.
When a patient needs bone marrow for a transplant, stem cells are thawed and injected into the bloodstream. The cells then make their way to the bone marrow, and start producing new blood cells – this process usually takes a few weeks.
Tissue is typed and listed on the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®. (The registry is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. When a patient needs a transplant, the registry is searched to find a matching marrow donor or cord blood unit.) It’s frozen in a liquid nitrogen freezer and stored, so if the unit is selected as a match for a patient needing a transplant, it will be available.
Private cord blood banking costs $2,000 to $3,000 for the initial fee, and around another $100 per year for storage. While that may seem like a hefty price tag, many expectant parents may see it as an investment in their child’s long-term health.
The process used to collect cord blood is simple and painless. After the baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut and clamped. Blood is drawn from the cord with a needle that has a bag attached. The process takes about 10 minutes.
Please note: ClinImmune Labs – University of Colorado Cord Blood Bank – CariCord’s activities for New York State residents are limited to collection, processing, and long-term storage of umbilical cord tissue. Possession of a New York State license for such collection, processing, and long-term storage does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of umbilical cord tissue-derived cells.
Cord blood is one of three sources of blood-regenerating cells used in stem cell transplantation; the other two sources are bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells. Stem cells have ability to transform themselves into different types of cells that help replace or heal impaired cells such as bone, nerve and blood cells.
As the research into umbilical cord blood and it’s therapeutic use for blood diseases has grown, so has the question as to whether people should privately store the cord blood of their offspring for future use. A recent paper on this issue by Mahendra Rao and colleagues advocates the practice of cord blood banking (for treatment of blood diseases) but in the context of public cord blood banks rather than a private cord blood banks. Any adult needing treated would need at least two cord blood samples that are immune compatible. So one sample will not be sufficient. A child might only need one cord blood sample but in the case of childhood leukaemia there is a risk that pre-leukemic cells are present in cord blood sample – and so the child could not use their own cells for therapy.
STEM CELLS are found in cord blood, cord tissue, and placenta tissue. These cells are highly valuable to your baby, the mother, and possibly other family members. When you save these stem cells with Americord®, you ensure that they are securely stored for you and your family’s future needs. Learn more >
There have been several reports suggesting that cord blood may contain other types of stem cells which can produce specialised cells that do not belong to the blood, such as nerve cells. These findings are highly controversial among scientists and are not widely accepted.
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Umbilical cord blood contains a large amount of stem cells. If parents sign up for personalized storage or donation, medical staff will remove stem cells from the umbilical cord and placenta. The blood is then cryogenically frozen, and put into long-term storage.
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.
Experts believe that umbilical cord blood is an important source of blood stem cells and expect that its full potential for treatment of blood disorders is yet to be revealed. Other types of stem cell such as induced pluripotent stem cells may prove to be better suited to treating non-blood-related diseases, but this question can only be answered by further research.
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.
The Medical Letter On Drugs and Therapeutics also recently addressed aspects of public and private cord blood banks, asking the question: “Does Private Banking Make Sense?” After citing various statistics on the actual uses of privately stored cord blood, they concluded that: “At the present time, private storage of umbilical cord blood is unlikely to be worthwhile. Parents should be encouraged to contribute, when they can, to public cord blood banks instead.” [Access The Medical Letter at www.medicalletter.org].
The United States Congress saw the need to help more patients who need a bone marrow or cord blood transplant and passed the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005, Public Law 109-129 (Stem Cell Act 2005) and the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act of 2010, Public Law 111-264 (Stem Cell Act 2010). These acts include support for umbilical cord blood transplant and research.
The biggest advantage for cord blood is the “immaturity” of the cells, which means transplants do not require an exact match. For bone marrow and peripheral blood transplants, donors need to match the patient’s cellular structure. However, cord blood cells can adapt to a wide variety of patients, and don’t require donor matching. Chances for graft-versus-host disease are also much lower for cord blood transplants.