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Umbilical cord blood was once discarded as waste material but is now known to be a useful source of blood stem cells. Cord blood has been used to treat children with certain blood diseases since 1989 and research on using it to treat adults is making progress. So what are the current challenges for cord blood research and how may it be used – now and in the future?
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.
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.”
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.
After the baby is born and the umbilical cord has been cut, blood is retrieved from the umbilical cord and placenta. This process poses minimal health risk to the mother or the child. If the mother agrees, the umbilical cord blood is processed and frozen for storage by the cord blood bank. Only a small amount of blood can be retrieved from the umbilical cord and placenta, so the collected stem cells are typically used for children or small adults.
We offer standard and premium cord blood processing options. Our standard service has been used in thousands of successful transplants since 1988 and begins at $1600. For $350 more, our premium service uses a superior new processing method that greatly enhances parents’ return on investment. (Please visit our processing technology page to learn about our cord blood processing methods.) For an additional $950, you can also store your baby’s cord tissue, which has the potential to help heal the body in different ways than cord blood.
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.
The blood within your baby’s umbilical cord is called ‘cord blood’ for short. Cord blood contains the same powerful stem cells that help your baby develop organs, blood, tissue, and an immune system during pregnancy. After your baby is born, and even after delayed cord clamping, there is blood left over in the umbilical cord that can be collected and saved, or ‘banked.’
Choosing a bank (specifically a private bank) for her daughter’s cord blood made perfect sense to Julie Lehrman, a mom based in Chicago. “We wanted the extra assurance that we were doing everything we could to keep Lexi healthy,” Lehrman says. “I was older when Lexi was born, and there’s a lot we didn’t know about my mom’s health history, so we felt that we were making a smart decision.” Fortunately, Lexi was born healthy, and neither she nor anyone else in the family has needed the cord blood since it was stored seven years ago. But Lehrman has no regrets; she still feels the family made a wise investment. “Lexi or her brother or even one of us could still need that blood in the future, so I’m thankful that we have it.” But banking your child’s cord blood may not be the right decision for you. Read on to see if you should opt for private cord blood banking.
The unpredictability of stem cell transportation led CBR to create a crush-resistant, temperature-protected, and electronically tracked collection kit that is designed to preserve the integrity and to help ensure the safe delivery of the blood and/or tissue. CBR’s CellAdvantage® Collection Kit contains everything the healthcare provider needs to easily and safely collect the maximum amount of a newborn’s cord blood following birth.
The umbilical cord blood contains haematopoietic stem cells – similar to those found in the bone marrow – and which can be used to generate red blood cells and cells of the immune system. Cord blood stem cells are currently used to treat a range of blood disorders and immune system conditions such as leukaemia, anaemia and autoimmune diseases. These stem cells are used largely in the treatment of children but have also started being used in adults following chemotherapy treatment.
Umbilical cord blood contains haematopoietic (blood) stem cells. These cells are able to make the different types of cell in the blood – red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Haematopoietic stem cells, purified from bone marrow or blood, have long been used in stem cell treatments for leukaemia, blood and bone marrow disorders, cancer (when chemotherapy is used) and immune deficiencies.
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.
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.
Cord blood banking means preserving the newborn stem cells found in the blood of the umbilical cord and the placenta. After a baby is born, and even after delayed cord clamping, there is blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta that holds valuable newborn stem cells. Parents have a choice between donating cord blood to a public bank for free, or paying to store it for their family in a private bank. Cord blood banking includes the whole process from collection through storage of newborn stem cells for future medical purposes.
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.
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.
So what are your options? You have three choices. One is to store the cord blood with a private company at a cost to you ranging from $1,500 to $2,500 and an annual storage fee in the ballpark of $125. Secondly, you can donate the cord blood to a public bank, if there is one working with your hospital, and your doctor is on board with the idea. There are also public banks that accept mail-in donations, if you register during your second trimester and your doctor is willing to take a short training class on-line. Zero cost to you. The third option is to do nothing and have the cord blood, umbilical cord, and placenta destroyed as medical waste.
Part of the reason for the dominance of these three companies in terms of the total number of units stored is that they are three of the oldest cord blood banks within the U.S., founded in 1992, 1993, and 1989, respectively. All three of these cord blood banks also support cord blood research and clinical trials.
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
The Medical Letter On Drugs and Therapeutics also recently addressed aspects of public and private cord blood banks, asking the question: “Does Private Banking Make Sense?” After citing various statistics on the actual uses of privately stored cord blood, they concluded that: “At the present time, private storage of umbilical cord blood is unlikely to be worthwhile. Parents should be encouraged to contribute, when they can, to public cord blood banks instead.” [Access The Medical Letter at www.medicalletter.org].
Tom Moore, CEO of Cord Blood Registry, the largest private cord blood banking firm, told ABC News conceded that there was no proof that the transplants worked, but added that there is strong anecdotal evidence.
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.
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.
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.
We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to the thousands of obstetricians, nurses, midwives, and childbirth educators who support placenta and umbilical cord blood banking. There is no doubt that these efforts save lives.
One reason BMT and PBSCT are used in cancer treatment is to make it possible for patients to receive very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. To understand more about why BMT and PBSCT are used, it is helpful to understand how chemotherapy and radiation therapy work.
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.
The first cord blood banks were private cord blood banks. In fact, Cryo-Cell is the world’s first private cord blood bank. It wasn’t until later that the government realized the need to preserve cord blood for research and public welfare. As a result, 31 states have adopted a law or have a piece of pending legislation that requires or encourages OBGYNs to educate expectant parents about cord blood banking and many states now have publicly held cord blood banks. As a result, parents have the option of banking their baby’s cord blood privately for the exclusive use of the child and the rest of the family or donating the cord blood to a public bank so that it can be used in research or by any patient who is a match and in need.
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.
Genes: Segments of DNA that contain instructions for the development of a person’s physical traits and control of the processes in the body. They are the basic units of heredity and can be passed down from parent to offspring.
Though uses of cord blood beyond blood and immunological disorders is speculative, some research has been done in other areas. Any such potential beyond blood and immunological uses is limited by the fact that cord cells are hematopoietic stem cells (which can differentiate only into blood cells), and not pluripotent stem cells (such as embryonic stem cells, which can differentiate into any type of tissue). Cord blood has been studied as a treatment for diabetes. However, apart from blood disorders, the use of cord blood for other diseases is not in routine clinical use and remains a major challenge for the stem cell community.
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.
On average, the transport time for stem cells from the hospital to CBR’s lab is 19 hours. CBR partners with Quick International, a private medical courier service with 30 years of experience in the transportation of blood and tissue for transplant and research.
There are options for relieving the financial burden associated with BMT and PBSCT. A hospital social worker is a valuable resource in planning for these financial needs. Federal government programs and local service organizations may also be able to help.
Your baby’s cord blood could be a valuable resource for another family. From foundations to non-profit blood banks and medical facilities, there are numerous locations that will collect, process, and use the stem cells from your baby’s cord blood to treat other people.
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.
Because the body’s immune system is designed to find and get rid of what it believes to be outside contaminants, stem cells and other cells of the immune system cannot be transfused into just anyone. For stem cell transfusions of any type, the body’s immune system can mistakenly start attacking the patient’s own body. This is known as graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) and is a big problem post-transplant. GvHD can be isolated and minimal, but it can also be acute, chronic and even deadly.
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.