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The stem cells used for autologous transplantation must be relatively free of cancer cells. The harvested cells can sometimes be treated before transplantation in a process known as “purging” to get rid of cancer cells. This process can remove some cancer cells from the harvested cells and minimize the chance that cancer will come back. Because purging may damage some healthy stem cells, more cells are obtained from the patient before the transplant so that enough healthy stem cells will remain after purging.
The choices expectant parents make today go beyond finding out the gender of their baby. They span beyond deciding whether to find out if their child, still in the womb, may potentially have a genetic disorder. Today, many parents must decide whether to store their baby’s umbilical cord blood so it will be available to heal their child if at any point in the child’s lifetime he or she becomes sick.
Cade Hildreth is the Founder of BioInformant.com, the world’s largest publisher of stem cell industry news. Cade is a media expert on stem cells, recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Business Journal, Xconomy, and Vogue Magazine.
The process is safe, painless, easy and FREE. Your physician or midwife collects the cord blood after your baby has delivered, so it does not interfere with the birthing process. The collection will not take place if there is an concern for your safety or that of your baby.
Families have the additional option of storing a section of the umbilical cord, which is rich in unique and powerful stem cells that may help repair and heal the body in different ways than stem cells derived from cord blood.
If you’re looking to attain cord blood from a public bank, be aware that matched cord blood, as with bone marrow, can be difficult to obtain through a public cord blood bank. Once a match is ascertained, it may take valuable weeks, even months, to retrieve the match, and the cost of acquiring the cord blood from a public bank can be upwards of $40,000. When the newborn’s umbilical cord blood is banked privately, they can be retrieved quickly, and since the parents own the cord blood, banks can perform the retrieval free of charge. Learn more about public versus private cord blood banking here.
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.
There are two main types of cord blood banks: public and private. Public cord blood banks are usually nonprofit companies that store your donated cord blood for free, to be used for any sick child in another family or for research purposes, so accessing and using your own cord blood is not guaranteed. Private cord blood banks are companies that require a registration fee (plus annual storage fees) for your cord blood, but it is saved specifically for your own family, so you’ll have ready access to it.
Cord blood transplants aren’t entirely new — they’ve been in use for about 20 years. In fact, the outcome of transplants has improved in the last 10 years, says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
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.
As cord blood is inter-related to cord blood banking, it is often a catch-all term used for the various cells that are stored. It may be surprising for some parents to learn that stored cord blood contains little of what people think of as “blood,” as the red blood cells (RBCs) can actually be detrimental to a cord blood treatment. (As we’ll discuss later, one of the chief goals of cord blood processing is to greatly reduce the volume of red blood cells in any cord blood collection.)
After a baby is born, cord blood is left in the umbilical cord and placenta. It is relatively easy to collect, with no risk to the mother or baby. It contains haematopoietic (blood) stem cells: rare cells normally found in the bone marrow.
Some brochures advertising private cord blood banking show children with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder, who were treated with their own stem cells. In the case of Cord Blood Registry, the company lists all stem cell transplants conducted at Duke University. In a list of individuals treated in their “stem cell therapy data” cerebral palsy is listed. However, transplants were part of an early research study and studies of efficacy are just now underway.
Parents who wish to donate cord blood are limited by whether there is a public bank that collects donations from the hospital or clinic where their baby will be born. Search our list of public banks in your country. Parents who wish to store cord blood and/or cord tissue for their family can find and compare private banks in your country. Family banks usually offer payment plans or insurance policies to lower the cost of cord blood banking.
Frances Verter, PhD, founded the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood in 1998 and has been a Scientific Advisor to Community Blood Services since 2007. In 2011 the NMDP presented her with their Lifeline Award in recognition of her efforts to improve public education about cord blood donation.
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.
Umbilical cord blood stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells. Umbilical cord blood stem cells are collected by your ob-gyn or a nurse from the umbilical cord after you give birth (but before your placenta is delivered). Embryonic stem cells are collected when a human embryo is destroyed.
Osteopetrosis is a genetic disease, so this means that doctors could use a sibling’s cord blood cells to treat Anthony, but they cannot use his own cells because the disease is in every cell in his body. In fact, a majority of the diseases listed in private banking firms’ marketing material as treatable with stem cells are genetic diseases.
Cord blood can’t be used to treat everything. If your child is born with a genetic condition such as muscular dystrophy or spina bifida, then the stem cells would have that condition, says Dr. Kurtzberg. But if the cord blood donor is healthy and there is a sibling or another immediate family member who has a genetic condition, the cord blood could be a good match for them.
The majority of programs that accept cord blood donations require the mother to sign up in advance. In the united States, the current requirement is to sign up by the 34th week of pregnancy. This cannot be over-stressed; time and time again, mothers who want to donate are turned away because they did not inquire about donation until it was too late.
Cord Blood Registry is headquartered in South San Francisco, California. CBR owns their 80,000 square foot laboratory located in Tucson, Arizona. CBR’s laboratory processes cord blood collections seven days a week, 365 days a year. The state-of-the-art facility has the capacity to store the stem cell samples of five million newborns.
Blood from the umbilical cord and placenta is put into a sterile bag. (The blood is put into the bag either before or after the placenta is delivered, depending upon the procedure of the cord blood bank.)
The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) has also adopted a position on the ethical aspects of umbilical cord blood banking. The EGE is of the opinion that “support for public cord blood banks for allogeneic transplantations should be increased and long term functioning should be assured.” They further stated that “the legitimacy of commercial cord blood banks for autologous use should be questioned as they sell a service which has presently no real use regarding therapeutic options.”
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.
Much research is focused on trying to increase the number of HSCs that can be obtained from one cord blood sample by growing and multiplying the cells in the laboratory. This is known as “ex vivo expansion”. Several preliminary clinical trials using this technique are underway. The results so far are mixed: some results suggest that ex vivo expansion reduces the time taken for new blood cells to appear in the body after transplantation; however, adult patients still appear to need blood from two umbilical cords. More research is needed to understand whether there is a real benefit for patients, and this approach has yet to be approved for routine clinical use.
^ Roura S, Pujal JM, Gálvez-Montón C, Bayes-Genis A (2015). “Impact of umbilical cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells on cardiovascular research”. BioMed Research International. 2015: 975302. doi:10.1155/2015/975302. PMC 4377460 . PMID 25861654.
We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to the thousands of obstetricians, nurses, midwives, and childbirth educators who support placenta and umbilical cord blood banking. There is no doubt that these efforts save lives.
At present, the odds of undergoing any stem cell transplant by age 70 stands at one in 217, but with the continued advancement of cord blood and related stem and immune cell research, the likelihood of utilizing the preserved cord blood for disease treatment will continue to grow. Read more about cord blood as a regenerative medicine here.
Though uses of cord blood beyond blood and immunological disorders is speculative, some research has been done in other areas. Any such potential beyond blood and immunological uses is limited by the fact that cord cells are hematopoietic stem cells (which can differentiate only into blood cells), and not pluripotent stem cells (such as embryonic stem cells, which can differentiate into any type of tissue). Cord blood has been studied as a treatment for diabetes. However, apart from blood disorders, the use of cord blood for other diseases is not in routine clinical use and remains a major challenge for the stem cell community.
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.
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.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute jointly oversee the Cord Blood Donation Program to provide hope to all patients in need of a life-saving stem cell transplant. For more information about the stem cell transplant program please visit The Stem Cell/Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) web site.