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NCI’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) can provide patients and their families with additional information about sources of financial assistance at 1–800–422–6237 (1–800–4–CANCER). NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health.
Because only a small amount of bone marrow is removed, donating usually does not pose any significant problems for the donor. The most serious risk associated with donating bone marrow involves the use of anesthesia during the procedure.
Marketing materials by Viacord and Cord Blood Registry, the two largest companies, do not mention that cord blood stem cells cannot be used by the child for genetic diseases, although the fine print does state that cord blood may not be effective for all of the listed conditions.
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.
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.
^ a b Ballen, KK; Gluckman, E; Broxmeyer, HE (25 July 2013). “Umbilical cord blood transplantation: the first 25 years and beyond”. Blood. 122 (4): 491–8. doi:10.1182/blood-2013-02-453175. PMC 3952633 . PMID 23673863.
Bone marrow and similar sources often requires an invasive, surgical procedure and one’s own stem cells may already have become diseased, which means the patient will have to find matching stem cells from another family member or unrelated donor. This will increase the risk of GvHD. In addition, finding an unrelated matched donor can be difficult, and once a match is ascertained, it may take valuable weeks, even months, to retrieve. Learn more about why cord blood is preferred to the next best source, bone marrow.
The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. The purpose of this is to help with education and create better conversations between patients and their healthcare providers.
There has been considerable debate about the ethical and practical implications of commercial versus public banking. The main arguments against commercial banking have to do with questions about how likely it is that the cord blood will be used by an individual child, a sibling or a family member; the existence of several well-established alternatives to cord blood transplantation and the lack of scientific evidence that cord blood may be used to treat non-blood diseases (such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease). In some cases patients may not be able to receive their own cord blood, as the cells may already contain the genetic changes that predispose them to disease.
Unlike traditional BMT or PBSCT, cells from both the donor and the patient may exist in the patient’s body for some time after a mini-transplant. Once the cells from the donor begin to engraft, they may cause the GVT effect and work to destroy the cancer cells that were not eliminated by the anticancer drugs and/or radiation. To boost the GVT effect, the patient may be given an injection of the donor’s white blood cells. This procedure is called a “donor lymphocyte infusion.”
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics don’t recommend routine cord blood storage. The groups say private banks should only be used when there’s a sibling with a medical condition who could benefit from the stem cells. Families are encouraged to donate stem cells to a public bank to help others.
Cord Blood Registry® (CBR®) is the world’s largest newborn stem cell company. Founded in 1992, CBR is entrusted by parents with storing samples from more than 600,000 children. CBR is dedicated to advancing the clinical application of cord blood and cord tissue stem cells by partnering with institutions to establish FDA-regulated clinical trials for conditions that have no cure today.CBR has helped more than 400 families use their cord blood stem cells for established and experimental medical treatments, more than any other family cord blood bank. CBR’s goal is to expand the potential scope of newborn stem cell therapies that may be available to patients and their families.
The area where the bone marrow was taken out may feel stiff or sore for a few days, and the donor may feel tired. Within a few weeks, the donor’s body replaces the donated marrow; however, the time required for a donor to recover varies. Some people are back to their usual routine within 2 or 3 days, while others may take up to 3 to 4 weeks to fully recover their strength.
Prior to freezing the cells, samples are taken for quality testing. Banks measure the number of cells that are positive for the CD34 marker, a protein that is used to estimate the number of blood-forming stem cells present. Typical cost, $150 to $200 per unit. They also measure the number of nucleated cells, another measure of stem cells, both before and after processing to determine the cell recovery rate. Typical expense, $35 per unit. A portion of the sample is submitted to check that there is no bacterial or fungal contamination. Typical expense, $75 per unit. Public banks will also check the ability of the sample to grow new cells by taking a culture called the CFU assay. Typical expense, $200 to $250 per unit.
Part of the reason for the dominance of these three companies in terms of the total number of units stored is that they are three of the oldest cord blood banks within the U.S., founded in 1992, 1993, and 1989, respectively. All three of these cord blood banks also support cord blood research and clinical trials.
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.
However, cord blood transplants also have limitations. Treatment of adults with cord blood typically requires two units of cord blood to treat one adult. Clinical trials using “double cord blood transplantation” for adults have demonstrated outcomes similar to use of other sources of HSCs, such as bone marrow or mobilized peripheral blood. Current studies are being done to expand a single cord blood unit for use in adults. Cord blood can also only be used to treat blood diseases. No therapies for non-blood-related diseases have yet been developed using HSCs from either cord blood or adult bone marrow.
Why should you consider donating the cord blood to a public bank? Simply because, besides bringing a new life into the world, you could be saving an individual whose best chance at life is a stem cell transplant with your baby’s donated cord blood. This can only happen if you donate and if your baby is a close enough match for a patient in need. If you chose to reserve the cord blood for your family, then siblings who have the same parents have a 25% chance of being an exact match.
Preserving stem cells does not guarantee that the saved stem cells will be applicable for every situation. Ultimate use will be determined by a physician. Please note: Americord Registry’s activities are limited to collection of umbilical cord tissue from autologous donors. Americord Registry’s possession of a New York State license for such collection does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of cells derived from umbilical cord tissue.
There are some diseases on the list (like neuroblastoma cancer) where a child could use his or her own cord blood. However, most of the diseases on the proven treatment list are inherited genetic diseases. Typically, a child with a genetic disease would require a cord blood unit from a sibling or an unrelated donor.
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.
Are public banks and family banks the same, except for who may use the cord blood and the cost to the parents? No. Public banks are subject to much higher regulatory requirements, and compliance with regulations carries costs. At a family bank you pay the bank enough to cover the cost of storing your baby’s cord blood, plus they make a profit. When you donate to a public bank, it costs you nothing, but the bank pays more on processing each blood collection than at a family bank. Let’s look at the steps that take place in the laboratory.
Your own cord blood will always be accessible. This applies only if you pay to store your cord blood at a private bank. The blood is reserved for your own family; nobody else can access or use it, and it will never be allotted to another family or be donated to research. If you donate your cord blood to a public bank, on the other hand, anyone who needs compatible cord blood can have it; there’s no guarantee that it will be available if and when your family needs it.
^ a b Thornley, I; et al. (March 2009). “Private cord blood banking: experiences and views of pediatric hematopoietic cell transplantation physicians”. Pediatrics. 123 (3): 1011–7. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-0436. PMC 3120215 . PMID 19255033.
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.
Bone marrow is the soft, sponge-like material found inside bones. It contains immature cells known as hematopoietic or blood-forming stem cells. (Hematopoietic stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can develop into every type of cell in the body.) Hematopoietic stem cells divide to form more blood-forming stem cells, or they mature into one of three types of blood cells: white blood cells, which fight infection; red blood cells, which carry oxygen; and platelets, which help the blood to clot. Most hematopoietic stem cells are found in the bone marrow, but some cells, called peripheral blood stem cells (PBSCs), are found in the bloodstream. Blood in the umbilical cord also contains hematopoietic stem cells. Cells from any of these sources can be used in transplants.
Therapies with cord blood have gotten more successful. “The outcomes of cord blood transplants have improved over the past 10 years because researchers and clinicians have learned more about dosing cord blood, picking better matches, and giving the patient better supportive care as they go through the transplant,” says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
Cord blood banking is not always cheap. It’s completely free to donate blood to a public cord blood bank, but private banks charge $1,400 to $2,300 for collecting, testing, and registering, plus an annual $95 to $125 storing fee.
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.
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.
When the medical courier delivers the cord blood collection kit to the cord blood bank, it is quickly processed to ensure the continued viability of the stem cells and immune system cells found in the cord blood. Firstly, a sample of the cord blood is tested for microbiological contamination, and the mother’s blood is tested for infectious diseases. As these tests are being conducted, the cord blood is processed to reduce the number of red blood cells and its total volume and isolate the stem cells and immune cells.
Certain public cord blood banks let you mail in your cord blood. You have to decide before the birth if you want to donate your cord blood. If the hospital where you’re delivering doesn’t accept donations, you can contact a lab that offers a mail-in delivery program. After you’ve passed the lab’s screening process, they’ll send you a kit that you can use to package your blood and mail it in, explains Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation (parentsguidecordblood.org), a nonprofit dedicated to educating parents about cord blood donation and cord blood therapists.
Lead image of baby’s umbilical cord from Wikimedia Commons. Possible human blood stem cell image by Rajeev Gupta and George Chennell. Remaining images of blood sample bags and red blood cells from Wellcome Images.
* Annual storage fees will be charged automatically to the credit/debit card on file, on or around your baby’s birthday, unless you’ve chosen a prepay option and are subject to change until they are paid.
Potential long-term risks include complications of the pretransplant chemotherapy and radiation therapy, such as infertility (the inability to produce children); cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye, which causes loss of vision); secondary (new) cancers; and damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and/or heart.