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A limitation of cord blood is that it contains fewer HSCs than a bone marrow donation does, meaning adult patients often require two volumes of cord blood for treatments. Researchers are studying ways to expand the number of HSCs from cord blood in labs so that a single cord blood donation could supply enough cells for one or more HSC transplants.
Currently, ViaCord has released the most cord blood units for medical transplant and has the highest cord blood transplant survival rate among companies who have disclosed complete transplant data. The one-year survival rate of patients who were treated with ViaCord cord blood units is 88%, and the long-term patient survival rate is 82%.1
In New Zealand, a hopeful couple are participating in a study that will use one of their son’s cord blood stem cells to research treatment for another son’s cystic fibrosis. In Chicago, people are using their sibling’s stem cells to successfully treat sickle cell disease. And countless other families have banked their second child’s cord blood after their first child was diagnosed with leukemia. Many of those children are alive and well today thanks to their sibling’s stem cells. Since the first successful cord blood stem cell transplant on a sibling in 1988, over 30,000 cord blood transplants have been performed worldwide.
An additional cost that is borne only by public banks is the “HLA typing” that is used to match donors and patients for transplants. This is an expensive test, running about $75 to $125 per unit. Family banks always defer this test until it is known whether a family member might use the cord blood for therapy.
A “tandem transplant” is a type of autologous transplant. This method is being studied in clinical trials for the treatment of several types of cancer, including multiple myeloma and germ cell cancer. During a tandem transplant, a patient receives two sequential courses of high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant. Typically, the two courses are given several weeks to several months apart. Researchers hope that this method can prevent the cancer from recurring (coming back) at a later time.
Stem cells also may be retrieved from umbilical cord blood. For this to occur, the mother must contact a cord blood bank before the baby’s birth. The cord blood bank may request that she complete a questionnaire and give a small blood sample.
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.
Sutter Neuroscience Institute has conducted a landmark FDA-regulated phase II clinical trial to assess the use of autologous stem cells derived from cord blood to improve language and behavior in certain children with autism.
A “mini-transplant” (also called a non-myeloablative or reduced-intensity transplant) is a type of allogeneic transplant. This approach is being studied in clinical trials for the treatment of several types of cancer, including leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and other cancers of the blood.
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.
Close relatives, especially brothers and sisters, are more likely than unrelated people to be HLA-matched. However, only 25 to 35 percent of patients have an HLA-matched sibling. The chances of obtaining HLA-matched stem cells from an unrelated donor are slightly better, approximately 50 percent. Among unrelated donors, HLA-matching is greatly improved when the donor and recipient have the same ethnic and racial background. Although the number of donors is increasing overall, individuals from certain ethnic and racial groups still have a lower chance of finding a matching donor. Large volunteer donor registries can assist in finding an appropriate unrelated donor.
Most of the diseases on the proven treatment list are inherited genetic diseases. Typically, a child with a genetic disease would require cord blood unit from a sibling or an unrelated donor. Having a sibling cord blood unit can be a great advantage as research shows that treatments using cord blood from a family member are about twice as successful as treatments using cord blood from a non-relative.9a, 17
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.
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.
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.
Most public banks only work with selected hospitals in their community. They do this because they need to train the staff who will collect the cord blood, and they want the blood to be transported to their laboratory as quickly as possible. A parent who wants to donate should start by finding public banks in your country.
“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.
Your free donation will be part of a program that is saving lives and supporting research to discover new uses for cord blood stem cells. Units that meet criteria for storage are made available to anyone, anywhere in the world, who needs a stem cell transplant.
Adverse effects are similar to hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, namely graft-versus-host disease if the cord blood is from a genetically different person, and the risk of severe infection while the immune system is reconstituted. There is a lower incidence with cord blood compared with traditional HSCT, despite less stringent HLA match requirements. 
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.
Excitement about cord tissue’s potential to help conditions affecting cartilage, muscle and nerve cells continues to grow.19 Researchers are focusing on a wide range of potential treatment areas, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, liver fibrosis, lung cancer, and sports injuries. Since 2007 there have been 150 clinical trials using cord tissue stem cells.
There is not one right answer. Your family’s medical history and personal preferences will play a major role in this decision process. However, we can help you make sense of the available options. Continue to follow our guide on cord blood to understand what is the best choice for your family.
* Disclaimer: Banking cord blood does not guarantee that treatment will work and only a doctor can determine when it can be used. Cord tissue stem cells are not approved for use in treatment, but research is ongoing.
First isolated in 1998, there is a lot of controversy around acquiring embryonic stem cells. Thankfully, we can also acquire the stem cells that form just a little bit later down the road, like in the umbillical cord tissue. These stem cells, known as adult stem cells, stay with us for life. (Later, we will learn why not all adult stem cells are equal.) Adult stem cells are more limited in the types of cells they can become, something known as being tissue-specific, but share many of the same qualities. Hematopoietic stem cells (Greek “to make blood” and pronounced he-mah-toe-po-ee-tic) found in the umbilical cord’s blood, for instance, can become any of the different types of blood cells found in the body and are the foundation of our immune system. Another example is mesenchymal (meh-sen-ki-mal) stem cells, which can be found in the umbilical cord tissue and can become a host of cells including those found in your nervous system, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, skin, bone, cartilage, and more.
^ a b Walther, Mary Margaret (2009). “Chapter 39. Cord Blood Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation”. In Appelbaum, Frederick R.; Forman, Stephen J.; Negrin, Robert S.; Blume, Karl G. Thomas’ hematopoietic cell transplantation stem cell transplantation (4th ed.). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9781444303537.
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.
Cord tissue is rich in another type of stem cell. Although there are no current uses, researchers are excited about the benefits cord tissue stem cells may offer in potential future users, such as regenerative medicine. By storing both, you’ll have potential access to more possibilities
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Your cells didn’t start out knowing how to come together to form your bones, heart or blood; they begun with more of a blank slate. These completely undifferentiated cells can be found during gestation, or the time the baby is in the womb, and are called embryonic stem cells. These early stage stem cells are master cells that have the potential to become any type of cell in the body.
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.
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.
Banking a baby’s blood and stem cells in a cord blood bank is a type of insurance. Ideally, you would not need to access your baby’s stem cells in order to address a medical concern. However, using a cord blood bank can provide peace of mind in knowing that you have a valuable resource if you need it.
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.
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports efforts to provide information about the potential benefits and limitations of cord blood banking and transplantation so that parents can make an informed decision. In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that if a patient requests information on umbilical cord blood banking, balanced information should be given. Cord blood education is also supported by legislators at the federal and state levels. In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences published an Institute of Medicine (IoM) report titled “Establishing a National Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank Program”.
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.
Some controversial studies suggest that cord blood can help treat diseases other than blood diseases, but often these results cannot be reproduced. Researchers are actively investigating if cord blood might be used to treat various other diseases.
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.
With public cord blood banks, there’s a greater chance that your cord blood will be put to use because it could be given to any child or adult in need, says William T. Shearer, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics and Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Cord blood is donated and is put on a national registry, to be made available for any transplant patient. So if your child should need the cord blood later in life, there’s no guarantee you would be able to get it back.
2 Cordblood.com, (2014). Cord Blood Stem Cell Banking | Cord Blood Registry | CBR. [online] Available at: http://www.cordblood.com/cord-blood-banking-cost/cord-blood-stem-cells [Accessed 22 March. 2017].
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.
After entering the bloodstream, the stem cells travel to the bone marrow, where they begin to produce new white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets in a process known as “engraftment.” Engraftment usually occurs within about 2 to 4 weeks after transplantation. Doctors monitor it by checking blood counts on a frequent basis. Complete recovery of immune function takes much longer, however—up to several months for autologous transplant recipients and 1 to 2 years for patients receiving allogeneic or syngeneic transplants. Doctors evaluate the results of various blood tests to confirm that new blood cells are being produced and that the cancer has not returned. Bone marrow aspiration (the removal of a small sample of bone marrow through a needle for examination under a microscope) can also help doctors determine how well the new marrow is working.
The blood within your baby’s umbilical cord is called ‘cord blood’ for short. Cord blood contains the same powerful stem cells that help your baby develop organs, blood, tissue, and an immune system during pregnancy. After your baby is born, and even after delayed cord clamping, there is blood left over in the umbilical cord that can be collected and saved, or ‘banked.’
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.
After the baby is born and the umbilical cord has been cut, blood is retrieved from the umbilical cord and placenta. This process poses minimal health risk to the mother or the child. If the mother agrees, the umbilical cord blood is processed and frozen for storage by the cord blood bank. Only a small amount of blood can be retrieved from the umbilical cord and placenta, so the collected stem cells are typically used for children or small adults.
Private cord blood banking can benefit those with a strong family history of certain diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and some cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. Parents who already have a child (in a household with biological siblings) who is sick with one of these diseases have the greatest chance of finding a match with their baby’s cord blood. Parents who have a family history of autism, Alzheimer’s, and type 1 diabetes can benefit from cord blood. Although these diseases aren’t currently treated with umbilical cord steam cells, researchers are exploring ways to treat them (and many more) with cord blood.