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The United States Congress saw the need to help more patients who need a bone marrow or cord blood transplant and passed the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005, Public Law 109-129 (Stem Cell Act 2005) and the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act of 2010, Public Law 111-264 (Stem Cell Act 2010). These acts include support for umbilical cord blood transplant and research.
This is the time of year when many employers and insurance companies hold open enrollment for insurance plans, for the upcoming year. Along with the usual medical, dental, and life insurance plans, many families also opt to enroll in a Medical Flexible Spending Account (or FSA). This type of account offers tax advantages for eligible healthcare costs throughout the year for you and all your dependents. Your Medical FSA is funded by pre-taxed payroll deductions in the amount you choose and covers a wide range of eligible medical expenses including those that result from the diagnosis, care, treatment, or prevention of disease or illness.
“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.
The chances of a successful bone marrow or cord blood transplant are better when the blood-forming cells are from a donor who closely matches the patient. However, studies show that cord blood may not need to match as closely as is necessary for a marrow donor. Umbilical cord blood may be especially promising for:
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.
Another contributor to cord blood banking costs is the quality of the collection kit. Cheaper banks typically use flimsy collection kits. To insure the survival of newborn stem cells, the shipping container should be thermally insulated to maintain kit temperature during cord blood shipments.
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.
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.
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.
Stem cells can be used in treatments for many different types of diseases. One of the main places young stem cells are found is in cord blood, which can be stored at birth and saved for future use if needed. Stem cells are also found in other places in the human body, including blood and bone marrow.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates any facility that stores cord blood; cord blood intended for use in the person from whom it came is not regulated, but cord blood for use in others is regulated as a drug and as a biologic. Several states also have regulations for cord blood banks.
Make sure you meet a few basic guidelines for public banking. Your doctor will give you an advanced blood test after giving birth, but there are a few basic requirements you have to meet before signing up. The requirements are different for each bank, but you can see our basic list of public banking requirements here.
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 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.
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.
Just like other blood donations, there is no cost to the donor of cord blood. If you do not choose to store your baby’s blood, please consider donating it. Your donation could make a difference in someone else’s life.
The baby’s cord blood will be processed and stored in a laboratory facility, often referred to as a blood bank. The cord blood should be processed and stored in a facility that is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) for the purpose of handling stem cells.
Beyond these blood-related disorders, the therapeutic potential of umbilical cord blood stem cells is unclear. No therapies for non-blood-related diseases have yet been developed using HSCs from either cord blood or adult bone marrow. There have been several reports suggesting that umbilical cord blood contains other types of stem cells that are able to produce cells from other tissues, such as nerve cells. Some other reports claim that umbilical cord blood contains embryonic stem cell-like cells. However, these findings are highly controversial among scientists and are not widely accepted.
CBR collection kits have been designed to shield the samples from extreme temperatures (shielding for more than 1 hour at extreme hot and cold). Samples remain at room temperature and are shipped directly to the CBR lab for processing.
MSCs can turn into bone, cartilage, fat tissue, and more. Although they are associated with bone marrow, these cells are also found in umbilical cord blood. These cells can function as connective tissue, which connects vital organs inside the body. Like HSCs, MSCs are multipotent.
Meet Dylan. Diagnosed with leukemia at just 8 weeks old, he received a life-saving cord blood transplant at 6 months old. Today, Dylan is growing up strong, going to school, travelling with his family and just having fun being a kid!
Chloe Savannah Metz’ mother donated her baby girl’s cord blood to the NCBP in December 2000. “Many thanks to the New York Blood Center for giving us the opportunity to donate our cord — we hope to give someone a second chance!” – Christine Metz
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.
Tissue typed and listed on the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®. (The registry is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. When a patient needs a transplant, the registry is searched to find a matching marrow donor or cord blood unit.)
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.
First, the cells are checked to see if they can be used for a transplant. If there are too few cells, the cord blood unit may be used for research to improve the transplant process for future patients or to investigate new therapies using cord blood, or discarded.
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.
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.
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.
When the medical courier delivers the cord blood collection kit to the cord blood bank, it is quickly processed to ensure the continued viability of the stem cells and immune system cells found in the cord blood. Firstly, a sample of the cord blood is tested for microbiological contamination, and the mother’s blood is tested for infectious diseases. As these tests are being conducted, the cord blood is processed to reduce the number of red blood cells and its total volume and isolate the stem cells and immune cells.
^ Caseiro, AR; Pereira, T; Ivanova, G; Luís, AL; Maurício, AC (2016). “Neuromuscular Regeneration: Perspective on the Application of Mesenchymal Stem Cells and Their Secretion Products”. Stem Cells International. 2016: 9756973. doi:10.1155/2016/9756973. PMC 4736584 . PMID 26880998.
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.
Within 24 hours of giving birth, your doctor will take a small blood sample. In most cases, the blood sample is sent to the bank along with your child’s cord blood. This helps the storage facility staff when checking the blood for diseases and contamination. Some hospitals may decide to test the mother’s blood for diseases themselves.
Today, cord blood stems cells are used in the treatment of nearly 80 diseases, including a wide range of cancers, genetic diseases, and blood disorders.2 In a cord blood transplant, stem cells are infused in to a patient’s bloodstream where they go to work healing and repairing damaged cells and tissue. When a transplant is successful, a healthy new immune system has been created.
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.
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.”
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.
To explain why cord blood banking is so expensive in the United States, we wrote an article with the CEO of a public cord blood bank that lists the steps in cord blood banking and itemizes the cost of each one.
Once you arrive at the hospital, all you need to worry about is having a safe birth. There are a few minor things that you and your family must remember at the hospital, but your priority should be birth and spending time with your newborn.
Banking cord blood is a new type of medical protection, and there are a lot of questions that parents may want to ask. The Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood organization even has questions it believes all parents should ask their cord blood banks. We have answers to these and other frequently asked cord blood questions in our FAQs. If you can’t find the answer for which you are looking, please feel free to engage one of our cord blood educators through the website’s chat interface.
Shai was a feisty little girl whose mother used her scientific background to search for the best approach to cure her cancer. Shai narrowly escaped death many times, including a recovery that even her doctors considered a miracle, yet she died at dawn on the day that she would have begun kindergarten. Her mother went on to found this website and charity in her memory. Read more…