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Through these two means, we are always producing more cells. In fact, much of your body is in a state of constant renewal because many cells can live for only certain periods of time. The lifespan for a cell in the stomach lining is about two days. Red blood cells, about four months. Nerve and brain cells are supposed to live forever. This is why these cells rarely regenerate and take a long time if they do.
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As cord blood is inter-related to cord blood banking, it is often a catch-all term used for the various cells that are stored. It may be surprising for some parents to learn that stored cord blood contains little of what people think of as “blood,” as the red blood cells (RBCs) can actually be detrimental to a cord blood treatment. (As we’ll discuss later, one of the chief goals of cord blood processing is to greatly reduce the volume of red blood cells in any cord blood collection.)
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.
To prevent graft-versus-host disease and help ensure engraftment, the stem cells being transfused need to match the cells of the patient completely or to a certain degree (depending on what is being treated). Cord blood taken from a baby’s umbilical cord is always a perfect match for the baby. In addition, immediate family members are more likely to also be a match for the banked cord blood. Siblings have a 25 percent chance of being a perfect match and a 50 percent chance of being a partial match. Parents, who each provide half the markers used in matching, have a 100% chance of being a partial match. Even aunts, uncles, grandparents and other extended family members have a higher probability of being a match and could possibly benefit from the banked cord blood. Read more reasons why you should bank cord blood.
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.
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.
Cord blood, which is harvested from the umbilical cord right after a baby is born, is marketed as a treatment for diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell disease, and as a potential source of cells for regenerative medicine – a cutting-edge field of medicine studying how to repair tissues damaged by everything from heart disease to cerebral palsy.
There are usually two fees involved in cord blood banking. The first is the initial fee that covers enrollment, collection, and storage for at least the first year. The second is an annual storage fee. Some facilities vary the initial fee based upon the length of a predetermined period of storage.
Unlike other banks, CBR uses a seamless cryobag for storage. The seamless construction decreases the potential for breakage that can occur in traditional, seamed-plastic storage bags. Prior to storage, each cryobag is placed in a second overwrap layer of plastic, which is hermetically sealed as an extra precaution against possible cross contamination by current and yet unidentified pathogens that may be discovered in the future. CBR stores the stem cells in vaults, called dewars, specially designed for long-term cryostorage. The cord blood units are suspended above a pool of liquid nitrogen that creates a vapor-phase environment kept at minus 196 degrees Celsius. This keeps the units as cold as liquid nitrogen without immersing them in liquid, which can enable cross-contamination. Cryopreserved cord blood stem cells have proven viable after more than 20 years of storage, and research suggests they should remain viable indefinitely.
Some brochures advertising private cord blood banking show children with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder, who were treated with their own stem cells. In the case of Cord Blood Registry, the company lists all stem cell transplants conducted at Duke University. In a list of individuals treated in their “stem cell therapy data” cerebral palsy is listed. However, transplants were part of an early research study and studies of efficacy are just now underway.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Umbilical cord blood can save lives. Cord blood is rich in stem cells that can morph into all sorts of blood cells, which can be used to treat diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and certain cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. There are a few ways for transplant patients to get blood cells (umbilical and placenta, bone marrow, peripheral/circulation), but cord blood is easier to match with patients, and because it is gathered during birth from the umbilical cord, it’s a painless procedure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.