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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.
Since 1989, umbilical cord blood has been used successfully to treat children with leukaemia, anaemias and other blood diseases. Researchers are now looking at ways of increasing the number of haematopoietic stem cells that can be obtained from cord blood, so that they can be used to treat adults routinely too.
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.
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Only three to five ounces of blood is collected from each umbilical cord. This small amount is enough to treat a sick child, but not an adult, unless multiple units of matched cord blood are used, says William T. Shearer, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics and Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Bone marrow transplantation (BMT) and peripheral blood stem cell transplantation (PBSCT) are procedures that restore stem cells that have been destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. There are three types of transplants:
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.
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.
^ 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.
Cord blood has an abundance of stem cells and immune system cells, and the medical uses of these cells has been expanding at a rapid pace. As these cells help the body re-generate tissues and systems, cord blood is often referred to as a regenerative medicine.
^ Reddi, AS; Kuppasani, K; Ende, N (December 2010). “Human umbilical cord blood as an emerging stem cell therapy for diabetes mellitus”. Current stem cell research & therapy. 5 (4): 356–61. doi:10.2174/157488810793351668. PMID 20528762.
The longest study to date, published in 2011 by Broxmeyer at al found that stem cells cyro-preserved for 22.5 years engrafted as expected. There was no significant loss of stem cell recovery or proliferation.
* 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.
Anthony’s doctors found a match for him through the New York Blood Center’s National Cord Blood Program, a public cord blood bank. Unlike private banks, public banks do not charge to collect cord blood, they charge a patients insurance company when cells are used. And once it is entered in the public system, the blood is available to anyone who needs it.
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.
Upon arrival at CBR’s laboratory, the kit is immediately checked in and inspected. Next, the cord blood unit is tested for sterility, viability, and cell count. In addition, the cord tissue is tested for sterility. CBR processes cord blood using the AutoXpress® Platform* (AXP®) – a fully automated, functionally closed stem cell processing technology. The AXP platform is an integral component of CBR’s proprietary CellAdvantage® system. CBR has the industry’s highest published average cell recovery rate of 99%.
Like most transplants, the stem cells must be a genetic match with the patients to be accepted by the body’s immune system. It goes without saying that a patient’s own cord blood will be a 100% match. The second highest chance of a genetic match comes from siblings.
As most parents would like to bank their babies’ cord blood to help safeguard their families, it is often the cost of cord blood banking that is the one reason why they do not. Most cord blood banks have an upfront fee for collecting, processing and cryo-preserving the cord blood that runs between $1,000 and $2,000. This upfront fee often also includes the price of the kit provided to collect and safely transport the cord blood, the medical courier service used to expedite the kit’s safe shipment, the testing of the mother’s blood for any infectious diseases, the testing of the baby’s blood for any contamination, and the cost of the first full year of storage. There is then often a yearly fee on the baby’s birthday for continued storage that runs around $100 to $200 a year.
There are some hospitals that have dedicated collections staff who can process mothers at the last minute when they arrive to deliver the baby. However, in the United States that is the exception to the rule.
Prices subject to change until they are paid. Fees apply to single-birth, U.S. customers only. Cancellation fees may apply. All major credit cards accepted. Payment plans cover first-year fees only; future annual storage fees are not included. If not paying by credit/debit card, total first year fees are due at the time of enrollment.
Cord blood is collected by your obstetrician or the staff at the hospital where you give birth. Not all hospitals offer this service. Some charge a separate fee that may or may not be covered by insurance.
A major limitation of cord blood transplantation is that the blood obtained from a single umbilical cord does not contain as many haematopoeitic stem cells as a bone marrow donation. Scientists believe this is the main reason that treating adult patients with cord blood is so difficult: adults are larger and need more HSCs than children. A transplant containing too few HSCs may fail or could lead to slow formation of new blood in the body in the early days after transplantation. This serious complication has been partially overcome by transplanting blood from two umbilical cords into larger children and adults. Results of clinical trials into double cord blood transplants (in place of bone marrow transplants) have shown the technique to be very successful. Some researchers have also tried to increase the total number of HSCs obtained from each umbilical cord by collecting additional blood from the placenta.
Sometimes, not enough cord blood can be collected. This problem can occur if the baby is preterm or if it is decided to delay clamping of the umbilical cord. It also can happen for no apparent reason. If an emergency occurs during delivery, priority is given to caring for you and your baby over collecting cord blood.
Once it arrives at the storage facility, the cord blood will be processed and placed in storage. The cord blood will either be completely immersed in liquid nitrogen or it will be stored in nitrogen vapor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After being treated with high-dose anticancer drugs and/or radiation, the patient receives the stem cells through an intravenous (IV) line just like a blood transfusion. This part of the transplant takes 1 to 5 hours.
Along with cord blood, Wharton’s jelly and the cord lining have been explored as sources for mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), and as of 2015 had been studied in vitro, in animal models, and in early stage clinical trials for cardiovascular diseases, as well as neurological deficits, liver diseases, immune system diseases, diabetes, lung injury, kidney injury, and leukemia.
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.
The proteins stem from three HLA genes, and you inherit one HLA from each parent, or half your HLA markers from your mother and half from your father. This gives siblings a 25 percent chance of being a perfect match, a 50 percent chance of being a partial match and another one-in-four chance of not being a match at all. Unfortunately, about seven out 10 patients who need a transplant don’t have a suitable donor in their family. They can either rely on their own stem cells, isolated before treatment or previously preserved, or try to find a match through a public donor.
“This reanalysis supports several previously expressed opinions that autologous [to use one’s OWN cells] banking of cord blood privately as a biological insurance for the treatment of life-threatening diseases in children and young adults is not clinically justified because the chances of ever using it are remote. The absence of published peer-reviewed evidence raises the serious ethical concern of a failure to inform prospective parents about the lack of future benefit for autologous cord banking … Attempts to justify this [commercial cord blood banking] are based on the success of unrelated public domain cord banking and allogeneic [using someone ELSE’S cells] cord blood transplantation, and not on the use of autologous [the person’s OWN cells] cord transplantation, the efficacy of which remains unproven”.
All cord blood is screened and tested. Whether you use a public or private bank, you’ll still need to be tested for various infections (such as hepatitis and HIV). If tests come back positive for disease or infection, you will not be able to store your cord blood.
Umbilical cord blood stem cells have the unique ability to help rebuild a healthy immune system damaged by disease. Cord blood has been used in transplant medicine for nearly 30 years and can be used in the treatment of nearly 80 different diseases today.1 Over the last few years, cord blood use has expanded beyond transplant medicine into clinical research trials for conditions like autism and brain injuries.
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.
There was a time before the 1990s when the umbilical cord and its blood were considered medical waste. Today, parents bank or store their baby’s umbilical cord blood because the stem cells it contains are currently utilized or show promise in the treatment of life-threatening and debilitating diseases.
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.
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.
Lack of awareness is the #1 reason why cord blood is most often thrown away. For most pregnant mothers, their doctor does not even mention the topic. If a parent wants to save cord blood, they must be pro-active.