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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.
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.
Because identical twins have the same genes, they have the same set of HLA antigens. As a result, the patient’s body will accept a transplant from an identical twin. However, identical twins represent a small number of all births, so syngeneic transplantation is rare.
The majority of programs that accept cord blood donations require the mother to sign up in advance. In the united States, the current requirement is to sign up by the 34th week of pregnancy. This cannot be over-stressed; time and time again, mothers who want to donate are turned away because they did not inquire about donation until it was too late.
When all the processing and testing is complete, the cord blood stem cells are frozen in cryogenic nitrogen freezers at -196° C until they are requested for patient therapy. Public banks are required to complete the entire laboratory processing and freeze the cord blood stem cells within 48 hours of collection. This is to insure the highest level of stem cell viability. The accreditation agencies allow family banks a window of 72 hours.
ViaCord’s Lab is FDA registered, AABB accredited, CLIA certified and equipped with the same freezers used by major research institutions such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
There has been considerable debate about the ethical and practical implications of commercial versus public banking. The main arguments against commercial banking have to do with questions about how likely it is that the cord blood will be used by an individual child, a sibling or a family member; the existence of several well-established alternatives to cord blood transplantation and the lack of scientific evidence that cord blood may be used to treat non-blood diseases (such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease). In some cases patients may not be able to receive their own cord blood, as the cells may already contain the genetic changes that predispose them to disease.
There are around 20 companies in the United States offering public cord blood banking and 34 companies offering private (or family) cord blood banking. Public cord blood banking is completely free (collecting, testing, processing, and storing), but private cord blood banking costs between $1,400 and $2,300 for collecting, testing, and registering, plus between $95 and $125 per year for storing. Both public and private cord blood banks require moms to be tested for various infections (like hepatitis and HIV).
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?
Private cord blood banking costs $2,000 to $3,000 for the initial fee, and around another $100 per year for storage. While that may seem like a hefty price tag, many expectant parents may see it as an investment in their child’s long-term health.
In addition, CBR offers Genetic Counselors on staff to help families make informed decisions about newborn stem cell banking. Phone 1-888-CORDBLOOD1-888-CORDBLOOD to speak with a CBR Genetic Counselor.
Therapies with cord blood have gotten more successful. “The outcomes of cord blood transplants have improved over the past 10 years because researchers and clinicians have learned more about dosing cord blood, picking better matches, and giving the patient better supportive care as they go through the transplant,” says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
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.
NCI’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) can provide patients and their families with additional information about sources of financial assistance at 1–800–422–6237 (1–800–4–CANCER). NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health.
The harvested bone marrow is then processed to remove blood and bone fragments. Harvested bone marrow can be combined with a preservative and frozen to keep the stem cells alive until they are needed. This technique is known as cryopreservation. Stem cells can be cryopreserved for many years.
Osteopetrosis is a genetic disease, so this means that doctors could use a sibling’s cord blood cells to treat Anthony, but they cannot use his own cells because the disease is in every cell in his body. In fact, a majority of the diseases listed in private banking firms’ marketing material as treatable with stem cells are genetic diseases.
‡ Payment Plan Disclosures for in-house CBR 6-Month Plan (interest free) – No credit check required. The 6-month plan requires a $10/month administrative fee. The plans may be prepaid in full at any time.
“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.
For example, in the UK the NHS Cord Blood Bank has been collecting and banking altruistically donated umbilical cord blood since 1996. The cord blood in public banks like this is stored indefinitely for possible transplant, and is available for any patient that needs this special tissue type. There is no charge to the donor but the blood is not stored specifically for that person or their family.
The term “cord blood” is used for the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and the placenta after the birth of a baby. Cord Blood contains stem cells that can grow into blood and immune system cells, as well as other types of cells. Today cord blood is often used as a substitute for bone marrow in stem cell transplants. There are over 80 diseases treated this way, including cancers, blood disorders, genetic and metabolic diseases.
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.
^ Roura, S; Pujal, JM; Gálvez-Montón, C; Bayes-Genis, A (2 July 2015). “The role and potential of umbilical cord blood in an era of new therapies: a review”. Stem cell research & therapy. 6: 123. doi:10.1186/s13287-015-0113-2. PMC 4489204 . PMID 26133757.
In this way, cord blood offers a useful alternative to bone marrow transplants for some patients. It is easier to collect than bone marrow and can be stored frozen until it is needed. It also seems to be less likely than bone marrow to cause immune rejection or complications such as Graft versus Host Disease. This means that cord blood does not need to be as perfectly matched to the patient as bone marrow (though some matching is still necessary).
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.
When an immediate family member has a disease that requires a stem cell transplant, cord blood from a newborn baby in the family may be the best option. There is a 25% chance, for example, that cord blood will be a perfect match for a sibling, because each child shares one of its two HLA genes with each parent. Occasionally cord blood will be a good match for a parent if, by chance, both parents share some of the six HLA antigens. The baby’s cord blood is less likely to be a good match for more distant relatives. The inventories of unrelated cord blood units in public cord blood banks are more likely to provide appropriate matches for parents and distant relatives, as well as for siblings that do not match.
The use of cord blood is determined by the treating physician and is influenced by many factors, including the patient’s medical condition, the characteristics of the sample, and whether the cord blood should come from the patient or an appropriately matched donor. Cord blood has established uses in transplant medicine; however, its use in regenerative medicine is still being researched. There is no guarantee that treatments being studied in the laboratory, clinical trials, or other experimental treatments will be available in the future.
Most of the diseases on the proven treatment list are inherited genetic diseases. Typically, a child with a genetic disease would require cord blood unit from a sibling or an unrelated donor. Having a sibling cord blood unit can be a great advantage as research shows that treatments using cord blood from a family member are about twice as successful as treatments using cord blood from a non-relative.9a, 17
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.
Adverse effects are similar to hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, namely graft-versus-host disease if the cord blood is from a genetically different person, and the risk of severe infection while the immune system is reconstituted. There is a lower incidence with cord blood compared with traditional HSCT, despite less stringent HLA match requirements. 
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.
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.