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A cord blood bank may be private (i.e. the blood is stored for and the costs paid by donor families) or public (i.e. stored and made available for use by unrelated donors). While public cord blood banking is widely supported, private cord banking is controversial in both the medical and parenting community. Although umbilical cord blood is well-recognized to be useful for treating hematopoietic and genetic disorders, some controversy surrounds the collection and storage of umbilical cord blood by private banks for the baby’s use. Only a small percentage of babies (estimated at between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000) ever use the umbilical cord blood that is stored. The American Academy of Pediatrics 2007 Policy Statement on Cord Blood Banking stated: “Physicians should be aware of the unsubstantiated claims of private cord blood banks made to future parents that promise to insure infants or family members against serious illnesses in the future by use of the stem cells contained in cord blood.” and “private storage of cord blood as ‘biological insurance’ is unwise” unless there is a family member with a current or potential need to undergo a stem cell transplantation. The American Academy of Pediatrics also notes that the odds of using a person’s own cord blood is 1 in 200,000 while the Institute of Medicine says that only 14 such procedures have ever been performed.
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.”
Private storage of one’s own cord blood is unlawful in Italy and France, and it is also discouraged in some other European countries. The American Medical Association states “Private banking should be considered in the unusual circumstance when there exists a family predisposition to a condition in which umbilical cord stem cells are therapeutically indicated. However, because of its cost, limited likelihood of use, and inaccessibility to others, private banking should not be recommended to low-risk families.” The American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also encourage public cord banking and discourage private cord blood banking. Nearly all cord blood transplantations come from public banks, rather than private banks, partly because most treatable conditions can’t use a person’s own cord blood. The World Marrow Donor Association and European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies states “The possibility of using one’s own cord blood stem cells for regenerative medicine is currently purely hypothetical….It is therefore highly hypothetical that cord blood cells kept for autologous use will be of any value in the future” and “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.”
The body has two ways to create more cells. The first is usually taught in middle school science. Known as cell division, it’s where a cell replicates within its membrane before dividing into two identical cells. Cells do this as needed for regeneration, which we will touch on in a second.
Banked cord blood is most abundant in white blood cells and stem cells. While a lot of attention is paid to the stem cells, there are approximately 10 times more total nucleated cells (TNCs) than stem cells in any cord blood collection. TNCs are basically white blood cells, or leukocytes; they are the cells of the immune system that protect the body. Despite stem cells comprising one-tenth of most collections, cord blood is still considered a rich source of hematopoietic (he-mah-toe-po-ee-tic) stem cells (HSCs). HSCs are often designated by the marker CD34+. Hematopoietic stem cells can become two categories of cells: myeloid and lymphoid cells. Myeloid cells go on to form your red blood cells, platelets, and other cells of the blood. Lymphoid cells go on to become the B cells and T cells and are the basis for the immune system. Cord blood also contains mesenchymal (meh-sen-ki-mal) stem cells (MSCs), but they are much more abundant in cord tissue, which we will discuss in a minute.
Cord blood is used to treat children with cancerous blood disorders such as leukaemia, or genetic blood diseases like Fanconi anaemia. The cord blood is transplanted into the patient, where the HSCs can make new, healthy blood cells to replace those damaged by the patient’s disease or by a medical treatment such as chemotherapy for cancer.
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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.
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].
To save money, public banks will not even process a cord blood donation unless they know in advance that they are going to keep it. When the collection first arrives at the lab, it is passed through a cell counting machine. Only collections that have at least 900 million nucleated cells are kept. As a result, over 60%-80% of cord blood donations are discarded. The public bank must absorb the expense of the collection kit and delivery charges for discarded blood; typically $100 per unit.
The evolution of stem cell therapies has paved the way for further research being conducted through FDA-regulated clinical trials to uncover their potential in regenerative medicine applications. Cord Blood Registry is the first family newborn stem cell company to partner with leading research institutions to establish FDA-regulated clinical trials exploring the potential regenerative ability of cord blood stem cells to help treat conditions that have no cure today, including: acquired hearing loss, autism, cerebral palsy, and pediatric stroke. In fact, 73% of the stem cell units released by CBR have been used for experimental regenerative therapies – more than any other family cord blood bank in the world.
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When you consider that public banks can only expect to ship 1-2% of their inventory for transplant, you can quickly understand why most public banks are struggling to make ends meet. That struggle means that fewer collection programs are staffed, and there are fewer opportunities for parents to donate to the public good. We said earlier that public banks only keep cord blood donations over a minimum of 900 million cells, but today most public banks have raised that threshold to 1.5 billion cells. The reason is that the largest units are the ones most likely to be used for transplants that bring income to the bank. Family cord blood banks do not need to impose volume thresholds because they have a profit margin on every unit banked.
^ a b c American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Hematology/Oncology; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Allergy/Immunology; Lubin, BH; Shearer, WT (January 2007). “Cord blood banking for potential future transplantation”. Pediatrics. 119 (1): 165–70. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-2901. PMID 17200285.
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%.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston is conducting a pioneering FDA-regulated phase I/II clinical trial to compare the safety and effectiveness of two forms of stem cell therapy in children diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study aims to compare the safety and efficacy of an intravenous infusion of autologous cord blood stem cells to bone marrow stem cells.
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.
When a child develops a condition that can be treated with stem cells, they undergo transplant. A doctor infuses stem cells from cord blood or bone marrow into the patient’s bloodstream, where they will turn into cells that fight the disease and repair damaged cells—essentially, they replace and rejuvenate the existing immune system.
The Cord Blood Registry (CBR) is unique, because it is currently the world’s largest cord blood bank, with over a half-million cord blood and cord tissue units stored to date. This is substantially more than its nearest competitor, ViaCord, which has 350,000 units stored. It was recently acquired by pharmaceutical giant, AMAG Pharmaceuticals, for $700 million in June 2015.
CBR was the first family bank accredited by AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks) and the company’s quality standards have been recognized through ISO 9001:2008 certification—the global business standard for quality. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has issued cord blood regulations, and the states of California, Illinois, Maryland, New York and New Jersey have mandatory licensing for cord blood banking. The stringent laboratory processes, record keeping, quality control and quality assurance of CBR are designed to meet all federal and state guidelines and regulations.
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.
There is a high likelihood that immediate biological family members could benefit from the baby’s cord tissue stem cells, with parents having a 100% likelihood of being compatible, siblings having a 75% likelihood of being compatible, and grandparents having a 25% likelihood of being compatible.16,50 Another reason why parents today are choosing to bank their baby’s cord tissue for the future.
As a mother-to-be, you can decide that your baby’s first act may be saving another person’s life. You can do this by choosing to donate your baby’s umbilical cord blood to the St. Louis Cord Blood Bank’s First Gift℠ Donation Program.
Each cord blood bank has different directions for returning the consent form. Some banks may ask you to mail the consent form along with the health history forms or to bring the original consent form with you to the hospital. Other banks may have you finish the form at the hospital. Follow the directions from your public cord blood bank.
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.
Cord blood cannot be used if the donor (baby) contains the same genetic illness as the recipient. Most cord blood banks glaze over this, but it is important to understand that the odds of using cord blood for the same child are much lower than the odds of using them for a sibling.
“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”.
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.
Cord tissue use is still in early research stages, and there is no guarantee that treatments using cord tissue will be available in the future. Cord tissue is stored whole. Additional processing prior to use will be required to extract and prepare any of the multiple cell types from cryopreserved cord tissue. Cbr Systems, Inc.’s activities for New York State residents are limited to collection of umbilical cord tissue and long-term storage of umbilical cord–derived stem cells. Cbr Systems, Inc.’s possession of a New York State license for such collection and long-term storage does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of these cells.
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.
The American Pediatric Association in 2008 recommended that physicians recommend that cord blood be donated instead of saved privately for family families. One of the major proponents for this was Joanne Kurtzberg, who profited from this by getting funding for her public cord blood bank at Duke University. She has since started her own private cord blood bank after doing more research on Cerebral Palsy. Interesting.
In terms of performance, our PrepaCyte-CB processing method has taken the lead. PrepaCyte-CB greatly improves on parents’ returns on investment because it yields the highest number of stem cells while showing the greatest reduction in red blood cells.1–4 Clinical transplant data show that cord blood processed with PrepaCyte-CB engrafts more quickly than other processing methods.7 This means patients may start feeling better more quickly, may spend less time in the hospital and are less likely to suffer from an infection. The ability to get better more quickly and a reduced chance of infection can prove vital in certain cases. Learn more about PrepaCyte®-CB here.
Stem Cell Storage is not included in their price. Viacord and Cord Blood Registry both charge for annual storage. This means that when you pay for your initial cord blood and/or cord tissue storage you will also have to pay annually for storage.
Private companies offer to store cord blood for anyone who wants it done, whether or not there is any medical reason known to do so at the time. The fee for private storage varies, but averages about $1,500 up front and $100 per year for storage. When there is no one in the family who needs a transplant, private storage of a newborn’s cord blood is done for a purely speculative purpose that some companies have termed “biological insurance.”
Most text on the National Cancer Institute website may be reproduced or reused freely. The National Cancer Institute should be credited as the source and a link to this page included, e.g., “Blood-Forming Stem Cell Transplants was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.”
If everyone donated cord blood to public registries for the ‘common good’ this would increase the chances of someone benefiting from a double cord blood transplant. This far outweights the actual probability of the person who donated the sample being able to usefully use it for themself.
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.
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.
You need to plan ahead if you decide to store cord blood. Banks need to be notified four to six weeks before your due date if you’re interested in donating blood. Once you do decide on a public bank, those affiliated with the Be the Match registry (bethematch.org/cord) will cover the costs of collecting, processing, and storing cord blood units.