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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.
In New Zealand, a hopeful couple are participating in a study that will use one of their son’s cord blood stem cells to research treatment for another son’s cystic fibrosis. In Chicago, people are using their sibling’s stem cells to successfully treat sickle cell disease. And countless other families have banked their second child’s cord blood after their first child was diagnosed with leukemia. Many of those children are alive and well today thanks to their sibling’s stem cells. Since the first successful cord blood stem cell transplant on a sibling in 1988, over 30,000 cord blood transplants have been performed worldwide.
Several research teams have reported studies in animals suggesting that cord blood can repair tissues other than blood, in diseases ranging from heart attacks to strokes. These findings are controversial: scientists often cannot reproduce such results and it is not clear HOW cord blood may be having such effects. When beneficial effects are observed they may be very slight and not significant enough to be useful for developing treatments. If there are positive effects, they might be explained not by cord blood cells making nerve or heart cells, but by the cells in the cord blood releasing substances that help the body repair damage.
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Your child’s cord blood will also be tested for contamination. Staff at the lab will test the unit, along with a blood sample from the mother, and check for any possible problems. Contamination may happen in the hospital room or during travel to the lab. If the cells are contaminated, they may still be used in a clinical trial.
The choices expectant parents make today go beyond finding out the gender of their baby. They span beyond deciding whether to find out if their child, still in the womb, may potentially have a genetic disorder. Today, many parents must decide whether to store their baby’s umbilical cord blood so it will be available to heal their child if at any point in the child’s lifetime he or she becomes sick.
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.
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 transplant was performed in Paris on October 6, 1988. Since that time, over 1 million cord blood units have been collected and stored in public and family banks all over the world.
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.
This is great news for families who have chosen to bank their newborn’s blood because someone in the family, typically a sibling, is suffering from a genetic disease or disorder, that cord blood is currently being used to treat.
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.
The therapeutic potential of stem cells from the umbilical cord is vast. Cord blood is already being used in the treatment of nearly 80 life-threatening diseases,2 and researchers continue to explore it’s potential. Duke University Medical Center is currently using cord blood stem cells in a Phase II clinical trial to see if it benefits kids with Autism. The number of clinical trials using cord tissue stem cells in human patients has increased to approximately 150 since the first clinical trial in 2007. Cord tissue stem cells are also being studied for the potential use in kids with Autism – a Phase I Clinical Trial is underway.
This is only the beginning. Newborn stem cell research is advancing, and may yield discoveries that could have important benefits for families. CBR’s mission is to support the advancement of newborn stem cell research, with the hope that the investment you are making now will be valuable to your family in the future. CBR offers a high quality newborn stem cell preservation system to protect these precious resources for future possible benefits for your family.
Phone 1-888-932-6568 to connect with a CBR Cord Blood Education Specialist or submit an online request. International callers should phone 650-635-1420 to connect with a CBR Cord Blood Education Specialist.
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.
Stem cells are powerful, adaptable cells that can be used to promote healing and reverse damage. Stem cells are found in various places within the human body, but the purest stem cells are found in the umbilical cord.
Cord blood collection is a completely painless procedure that does not interfere with the birth or with mother-and-child bonding following the delivery. There is no risk to either the mother or baby. Cord blood collection rarely requires Blood Center staff to be present during the baby’s delivery. There is no cost to you for donating.
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.
If someone doesn’t have cord blood stored, they will have to rely on stem cells from another source. For that, we can go back to the history of cord blood, which really begins with bone marrow. Bone marrow contains similar although less effective and possibly tainted versions of the same stem cells abundant in cord blood. Scientists performed the first bone marrow stem cell transplant in 1956 between identical twins. It resulted in the complete remission of the one twin’s leukemia.
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].
Sutter Neuroscience Institute has conducted a landmark FDA-regulated phase II clinical trial to assess the use of autologous stem cells derived from cord blood to improve language and behavior in certain children with autism.