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According to Cord Blood Registry, cord blood is defined as “the blood that remains in your baby’s umbilical cord after the cord has been cut, is a rich source of unique stem cells that can be used in medical treatments.” Cord blood has been shown to help treat over 80 diseases, such as leukemia, other cancers, and blood disorders. This cord blood, which can be safely removed from your newborn’s already-cut umbilical cord, can be privately stored for the purpose of possible use in the future for your child or family member. (It can also be donated to a public bank, but this is not widely available)
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.
To minimize potential side effects, doctors most often use transplanted stem cells that match the patient’s own stem cells as closely as possible. People have different sets of proteins, called human leukocyte-associated (HLA) antigens, on the surface of their cells. The set of proteins, called the HLA type, is identified by a special blood test.
Today, many conditions may be treatable with cord blood as part of a stem cell transplant, including various cancers and blood, immune, and metabolic disorders. Preserving these cells now may provide your family potential treatment options in the future.
There are some hospitals that have dedicated collections staff who can process mothers at the last minute when they arrive to deliver the baby. However, in the United States that is the exception to the rule.
With the consent of the parents, blood can be collected from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby shortly after birth. This does not hurt the baby or the mother in any way, and it is blood that would otherwise be discarded as biological waste along with the placenta (another rich source of stem cells) after the birth.
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.)
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.
Donating your baby’s umbilical cord blood may offer a precious resource to a patient in need of a life-saving stem cell transplant. Umbilical cord blood is rich in blood-forming stem cells, which can renew themselves and grow into mature blood cells. After your baby is born, these cord blood cells can be collected, preserved and later used as a source of stem cells for transplantation for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other life-threatening blood diseases.
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.
In Europe, Canada, and Australia use of cord blood is regulated as well. In the United Kingdom the NHS Cord Blood Bank was set up in 1996 to collect, process, store and supply cord blood; it is a public cord blood bank and part of the NHS.
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.
Some financial aid is available for families that opt for private cord blood banking. If you have a sick child who could benefit from umbilical cord blood, some cord blood banks offer programs in which the bank will cover free cord blood processing and storage if the baby has a biological sibling with certain diseases. Certain insurance companies may pitch in if that sibling needs to be treated with the cord blood in the near future, Dr. Verter says.
* Annual storage fees will be charged automatically to the credit/debit card on file, on or around your baby’s birthday, unless you’ve chosen a prepay option and are subject to change until they are paid.
^ 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.
Bone marrow is the soft, sponge-like material found inside bones. It contains immature cells known as hematopoietic or blood-forming stem cells. (Hematopoietic stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can develop into every type of cell in the body.) Hematopoietic stem cells divide to form more blood-forming stem cells, or they mature into one of three types of blood cells: white blood cells, which fight infection; red blood cells, which carry oxygen; and platelets, which help the blood to clot. Most hematopoietic stem cells are found in the bone marrow, but some cells, called peripheral blood stem cells (PBSCs), are found in the bloodstream. Blood in the umbilical cord also contains hematopoietic stem cells. Cells from any of these sources can be used in transplants.
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.
Georgia Regents University is conducting an FDA-regulated phase I/II clinical trial to assess whether an infusion of autologous stem cells derived from their own cord blood can improve the quality of life for children with cerebral palsy.
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.
Stem cells are often extracted from cord blood and bone marrow.Different cells have different life cycles, and many are constantly regenerating, but when damage occurs and the body needs to come up with a new supply of cells to heal itself, it relies on the stem cell’s ability to quickly create more cells to repair the wound. Herein lays the potential for the introduction of new stem cells to enhance or be the driving factor in the healing process.
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.
Parents who wish to donate cord blood are limited by whether there is a public bank that collects donations from the hospital or clinic where their baby will be born. Search our list of public banks in your country. Parents who wish to store cord blood and/or cord tissue for their family can find and compare private banks in your country. Family banks usually offer payment plans or insurance policies to lower the cost of cord blood banking.
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.
With allogeneic transplants, GVHD sometimes develops when white blood cells from the donor (the graft) identify cells in the patient’s body (the host) as foreign and attack them. The most commonly damaged organs are the skin, liver, and intestines. This complication can develop within a few weeks of the transplant (acute GVHD) or much later (chronic GVHD). To prevent this complication, the patient may receive medications that suppress the immune system. Additionally, the donated stem cells can be treated to remove the white blood cells that cause GVHD in a process called “T-cell depletion.” If GVHD develops, it can be very serious and is treated with steroids or other immunosuppressive agents. GVHD can be difficult to treat, but some studies suggest that patients with leukemia who develop GVHD are less likely to have the cancer come back. Clinical trials are being conducted to find ways to prevent and treat GVHD.