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The term “cord blood” is used for the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and the placenta after the birth of a baby. Cord Blood contains stem cells that can grow into blood and immune system cells, as well as other types of cells. Today cord blood is often used as a substitute for bone marrow in stem cell transplants. There are over 80 diseases treated this way, including cancers, blood disorders, genetic and metabolic diseases.
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:
Umbilical cord blood is useful for research. For example, researchers are investigating ways to grow and multiply haematopoietic (blood) stem cells from cord blood so that they can be used in more types of treatments and for adult patients as well as children. Cord blood can also be donated altruistically for clinical use. Since 1989, umbilical cord blood transplants have been used to treat children who suffer from leukaemia, anaemias and other blood diseases.
Some parents-to-be are sold on the advertising that banking their child’s cord blood could potentially treat an array of diseases the child, or his siblings, could encounter in their lives. Other parents-to-be may find all the promises too good to be true.
While all three stem cell sources are used in similar procedures, they each have advantages and drawbacks. Bone marrow transplants are the traditional form of therapy, but peripheral blood cells are becoming more popular, since doctors often get more stem cells from the bloodstream.
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.
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.
If someone doesn’t have cord blood stored, they will have to rely on stem cells from another source. For that, we can go back to the history of cord blood, which really begins with bone marrow. Bone marrow contains similar although less effective and possibly tainted versions of the same stem cells abundant in cord blood. Scientists performed the first bone marrow stem cell transplant in 1956 between identical twins. It resulted in the complete remission of the one twin’s leukemia.
Expectant families interested in donating can call 1-800-KARMANOS (1-800-527-6266). Potential donors will be provided with general information regarding the donation process. Staff will be available to answer any questions or concerns you may have along the way.
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.
Once donated cord blood is listed on the Be the Match registry, doctors can access it to treat patients who need stem cell transplants. Public cord blood banks keep the names of both mothers and babies confidential to protect the privacy of families.
Public cord blood banks store cord blood for allogenic transplants. They do not charge to store cord blood. The stem cells in the donated cord blood can be used by anyone who matches. Some public banks will store cord blood for directed donation if you have a family member who has a disease that could potentially be treated with stem cells.
Most of the diseases on the proven treatment list are inherited genetic diseases. Typically, these treatments require a donor transplant, as from a sibling. In fact, 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 To date, over 400 ViaCord families have used their cord blood 56% were for transplant.1
The use of hematopoietic stem cells, which can be found in the blood that remains in the vein of the umbilical cord and placenta after birth, is a proven treatment of more than 80 diseases. Mesenchymal 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, are making progress in clinical trials. Some such trials show promise in treating strokes, heart disease, diabetes, autism, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s disease.
For these and other reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and many physicians do not recommend private cord blood banking except as “directed donations” in cases where a family member already has a current need or a very high potential risk of needing a bone marrow transplant. In all other cases, the AAP has declared the use of cord blood as “biological insurance” to be “unwise.” [Read the AAP’s news release at http://www.aap.org/advocacy/archives/julcord.htm ]
Companies throughout Europe also offer commercial (private) banking of umbilical cord blood. A baby’s cord blood is stored in case they or a family member develop a condition that could be treated by a cord blood transplant. Typically, companies charge an upfront collection fee plus an annual storage fee.
Florida Hospital for Children is conducting an FDA-regulated phase I clinical trial to investigate the use of a child’s stem cells derived from their own cord blood as a treatment for acquired sensorineural hearing loss.
Cord blood contains mesenchymal stem cells but is much more abundant in hematopoietic stem cells. Cord tissue, on the other hand, contains some hematopoietic stem cells but is much richer in mesenchymal stem cells. Cord tissue, or Wharton’s jelly, is the protective layer that covers the umbilical cord’s vein and other vessels. Its MSCs can become a host of cells including those found in the nervous system, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, skin, bone, cartilage, and more. MSCs are currently undergoing clinical trials for sports injuries, heart and kidney disease, ALS, wound healing and autoimmune disease. As with cord blood, cord tissue is easily collected at the type of birth and holds great potential in regenerative medicine. Learn more about cord tissue banking here.
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.
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.
More cord blood donations are desperately needed to cover the transplant needs of adults. Cord blood donations from newborns of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds are especially needed. Tissue types are inherited, so patients who need a stem cell transplant are more likely to find a matched cord blood unit from someone in their own race or ethnic group.
Stem cells from cord blood can be used for the newborn, their siblings, and potetinally other relatives. Patients with genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, cannot use their own cord blood and will need stem cells from a sibling’s cord blood. In the case of leukemia or other blood disorders, a child can use either their own cord blood or their sibling’s for treatment.