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Bone marrow transplantation, also called hemopoietic stem cell transplantation, is under investigation for the treatment of severe forms of multiple sclerosis. The long-term benefits of this experimental procedure have not yet been established. In this procedure, the individual receives grafts of his or her own blood stem cells, and thus donor stem cells are not used or needed.
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.
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.
First isolated in 1998, there is a lot of controversy around acquiring embryonic stem cells. Thankfully, we can also acquire the stem cells that form just a little bit later down the road, like in the umbillical cord tissue. These stem cells, known as adult stem cells, stay with us for life. (Later, we will learn why not all adult stem cells are equal.) Adult stem cells are more limited in the types of cells they can become, something known as being tissue-specific, but share many of the same qualities. Hematopoietic stem cells (Greek “to make blood” and pronounced he-mah-toe-po-ee-tic) found in the umbilical cord’s blood, for instance, can become any of the different types of blood cells found in the body and are the foundation of our immune system. Another example is mesenchymal (meh-sen-ki-mal) stem cells, which can be found in the umbilical cord tissue and can become a host of cells including those found in your nervous system, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, skin, bone, cartilage, and more.
Marketing materials by Viacord and Cord Blood Registry, the two largest companies, do not mention that cord blood stem cells cannot be used by the child for genetic diseases, although the fine print does state that cord blood may not be effective for all of the listed conditions.
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.
Experts believe that umbilical cord blood is an important source of blood stem cells and expect that its full potential for treatment of blood disorders is yet to be revealed. Other types of stem cell such as induced pluripotent stem cells may prove to be better suited to treating non-blood-related diseases, but this question can only be answered by further research.
Cord blood donation doesn’t cost anything for parents. Public cord blood banks pay for everything which includes the collection, testing, and storing of umbilical cord blood. This means that cord blood donation is not possible in every hospital.
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).
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.
Lead image of baby’s umbilical cord from Wikimedia Commons. Possible human blood stem cell image by Rajeev Gupta and George Chennell. Remaining images of blood sample bags and red blood cells from Wellcome Images.
Our annual storage fee is due every year on the birth date of the child and covers the cost of storage until the following birthday. The fee is the same $150 for both our standard and our premium cord blood services. The annual cord tissue storage fee is an additional $150.
As most parents would like to bank their babies’ cord blood to help safeguard their families, it is often the cost of cord blood banking that is the one reason why they do not. Most cord blood banks have an upfront fee for collecting, processing and cryo-preserving the cord blood that runs between $1,000 and $2,000. This upfront fee often also includes the price of the kit provided to collect and safely transport the cord blood, the medical courier service used to expedite the kit’s safe shipment, the testing of the mother’s blood for any infectious diseases, the testing of the baby’s blood for any contamination, and the cost of the first full year of storage. There is then often a yearly fee on the baby’s birthday for continued storage that runs around $100 to $200 a year.
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.
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].
Cord blood can’t be used to treat everything. If your child is born with a genetic condition such as muscular dystrophy or spina bifida, then the stem cells would have that condition, says Dr. Kurtzberg. But if the cord blood donor is healthy and there is a sibling or another immediate family member who has a genetic condition, the cord blood could be a good match for them.
Private or family banks store cord blood for autologous use or directed donation for a family member. Private banks charge a yearly fee for storage. Blood stored in a private bank must meet the same standards as blood stored in a public bank. If you have a family member with a disorder that may potentially be treated with stem cells, some private banks will store the cord blood free of charge.
Stem cells from cord blood can be used for the newborn, their siblings, and potetinally other relatives. Patients with genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, cannot use their own cord blood and will need stem cells from a sibling’s cord blood. In the case of leukemia or other blood disorders, a child can use either their own cord blood or their sibling’s for treatment.
Bone marrow and similar sources often requires an invasive, surgical procedure and one’s own stem cells may already have become diseased, which means the patient will have to find matching stem cells from another family member or unrelated donor. This will increase the risk of GvHD. In addition, finding an unrelated matched donor can be difficult, and once a match is ascertained, it may take valuable weeks, even months, to retrieve. Learn more about why cord blood is preferred to the next best source, bone marrow.
A list of U.S. transplant centers that perform allogeneic transplants can be found at BeTheMatch.org/access. The list includes descriptions of the centers, their transplant experience, and survival statistics, as well as financial and contact information.
The mother signs an informed consent which gives a “public” cord blood bank permission to collect the cord blood after birth and to list it on a database that can be searched by doctors on behalf of patients. The cord blood is listed purely by its genetic type, with no information about the identity of the donor. In the United States, Be The Match maintains a national network of public cord blood banks and registered cord blood donations. However, all the donation registries around the world cooperate with each other, so that a patient who one day benefits from your child’s cord blood may come from anywhere. It is truly a gift to the benefit of humankind.
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.
There are over 130 public cord blood banks in 35 countries. They are regulated by Governments and adhere to internationally agreed standards regarding safety, sample quality and ethical issues. In the UK, several NHS facilities within the National Blood Service harvest and store altruistically donated umbilical cord blood. Trained staff, working separately from those providing care to the mother and newborn child, collect the cord blood. The mother may consent to donate the blood for research and/or clinical use and the cord blood bank will make the blood available for use as appropriate.
Umbilical cord blood is blood that remains in the placenta and in the attached umbilical cord after childbirth. Cord blood is collected because it contains stem cells, which can be used to treat hematopoietic and genetic disorders.
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.
The parents who make the decision to store their baby’s cord blood and cord tissue are thinking ahead, wanting to do right from the start (even before the start), and taking steps to do whatever they can to protect their baby down the road. Today, many conscientious parents are also considering delayed cord clamping (DCC), a practice in which the umbilical cord is not clamped immediately but rather after it continues to pulse for an average of 30 seconds to 180 seconds. Many parents don’t realize that they can delay the clamping of the cord and still bank their baby’s cord blood. As noted early, our premium processing method, PrepaCyte-CB, is able to capture more immune system cells and reduce the greatest number of red blood cell contaminants. This makes it go hand in hand with delayed cord clamping because it is not as affected by volume, effectively making up for the smaller quantity with a superior quality. You can read more about delayed cord clamping vs. cord blood banking here.
While banking cord blood is a new experience for many parents, it is a simple one. After all, most mothers are worried about how the delivery will go and don’t want to also be worried about the details of collecting, processing and cryo-preserving their babies’s cord blood. Thankfully, the healthcare provider and the cord blood bank do most of the work. Here are the steps found in cord blood banking: