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The second couple listened intently to the conversation, interjecting that they hadn’t considered cord blood banking, and they looked toward me. They started asking the other couple, and me, many questions about cord blood banking. What is the cost? How is it done? What are the uses of cord blood? Is it only used to treat the baby later in life? Will cord blood treat myasthenia gravis? And finally, is it worth the time, effort, and money to invest in cord blood banking?
One of the first things I learned is that the couples in my childbirth class were not unique. In fact, research indicates that most pregnant women are underinformed about the issue of cord blood banking (Fox et al., 2007). While reviewing the literature on cord blood banking, I also found that the information available for nurses and childbirth educators often comes from private cord blood banks or their employees (Cord Blood Registry, 2009; Wolf, 1998, 1999), thus introducing the chance of bias.
Cord Blood Registry is a cord blood storage company that collects, processes and stores stem cells to help families with medical needs later in life. Founded in 1992, it is the world’s largest newborn stem cell company.
To explain why cord blood banking is so expensive in the United States, we wrote an article with the CEO of a public cord blood bank that lists the steps in cord blood banking and itemizes the cost of each one.
Parents often complain about cord blood banking costs. This is not an industry where costs can be cut by running a turn-key operation. Each cord blood unit must be individually tested and processed by trained technicians working in a medical laboratory.
Eapen M, Horowitz MM, Klein JP, et al. Higher mortality after allogeneic peripheral-blood transplantation compared with bone marrow in children and adolescents: the Histocompatibility and Alternate Stem Cell Source Working Committee of the International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry. J Clin Oncol.2004;22 :4872– 4780
Richardson SM, Hoyland JA, Mobasheri R, Csaki C, Shakibaei M, Mobasheri A. Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Regenerative Medicine: Opportunities and Challenges for Articular Cartilage and Intervertebral Disc Tissue Engineering. J Cell Physiol. 2010; 222(1):23-32.
Despite the benefits of using umbilical cord blood stem cells for transplant, the process also has some disadvantages (see Table 3). For stem cell transplants to be successful, measurable signs of engraftment must occur. Engraftment is the opposite of rejection and indicates that the stem cell transplant is “working.” Two measurable signs of engraftment are the recovery of both neutrophil (a type of white blood cell) and platelet (a clotting factor) production. These two clinical signs of recovery take longer to occur in umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants than in bone marrow stem cell transplants. In other words, the lab values for white blood cell production and platelet production take longer to increase after umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants than after bone marrow stem cell transplants (Hess, 1997; Moise, 2005).
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.
Since the first unrelated cord blood–banking program was started at the New York Blood Center in 1991,40 a number of public cord blood–banking programs have been established throughout the world to collect, type, screen for infection, and cryogenically store cord blood for potential transplantation to unrelated and related recipients.41–49 Some of these programs had been funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (National Institutes of Health), the National Marrow Donor Program, the American Red Cross, or academic programs based in not-for-profit organizations. One cord blood program initiated by the National Institutes of Health exists solely for sibling donor collection for families who are likely to consider cord blood transplantation because a first-degree relative has been diagnosed with a disease that is treatable with allogeneic transplantation. In this bank, families own the cord blood, and it is shipped to a designated transplant center in the event a medical decision to proceed with cord blood transplantation is made.50
Bunin N, Aplenc R, Leahey A, et al. Outcomes of transplantation with partial T-cell depletion of matched or mismatched unrelated or partially matched related donor bone marrow in children and adolescents with leukemias. Bone Marrow Transplant.2005;35 :151– 158
To begin a discussion of umbilical cord blood banking, it must first be understood that the component from the blood that is salvaged is the stem cells. Stem cells are unspecialized cells that are the basis of all tissue and organ cells of the body. There are three main sources of stem cells in humans: embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, and umbilical cord stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are generally used in research but not in clinical practice. Adult stem cells are found in various locations in the human body, but they are most commonly found in bone marrow (McGuckin & Forraz, 2008). Over the years, transplants of bone marrow stem cells have been used clinically to treat disease processes in which stem cells are beneficial. Umbilical cord blood stem cells were historically considered a waste product of the birthing process but are now known to have up to 10 times more stem cells than adult bone marrow (Gunning, 2007).
Because of their ability to regenerate, umbilical cord stem cells may provide the answers to conditions such as various forms of heart disease and diabetes. Medical researchers studying umbilical cord blood stem cells have recorded several positive observations in animal studies, including instances where cord blood stem cells have improved vascular functions in injured tissue, as well as blood flow and improved overall heart function.
Some ethical concerns over umbilical cord blood banking warrant mention. As previously stated, the AAP (2007) acknowledges that claims in advertisements for private cord blood banks are not accurate. In fact, some of the statements made by private cord blood banks are outright misleading (Fox et al., 2007), which raises questions about how informed consent for cord blood collection is obtained. Legally, the cord blood belongs to the child, but the consent of the mother alone is usually obtained for collection, and the consent of the father is rarely considered (Ballen, 2006). Because the cord blood now has a “value,” the person who obtains consent and that same person’s professional connection to the private cord blood bank may come into question (Pinch, 2001).
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.
For much of pregnancy, the umbilical cord is the lifeline of a fetus, tethering it to the placenta. Snaking through the nearly 2-feet-long cord, there’s a vein ferrying nutrients and oxygen from mom’s blood (via the placenta), plus two arteries carrying oxygen- and nutrient-depleted blood from the fetus back to mom. Because mother’s blood and fetal blood don’t actually mix much, the blood in the placenta and umbilical cord at birth belongs mainly to the fetus.
This means that family members, and possibly even strangers, may be able to use the cord blood stem cells for certain treatments. Siblings from the same biological parents have the highest chance of full or partial genetic match, followed by the biological parents who may be a partial match.
Families with a history of diseases can greatly benefit from cord blood banking, as an insurance policy against possible future diseases. However, cord blood banking is expensive, can’t be used to treat everything, and your child may not even need it—at private cord blood banks, most is eventually discarded. Lastly, you should be aware that if the child develops certain genetic diseases, the cord blood will have the same genetic flaws.
“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.
Preserving stem cells does not guarantee that the saved stem cells will be applicable for every situation. Ultimate use will be determined by a physician. Please note: Americord Registry’s activities are limited to collection of umbilical cord tissue from autologous donors. Americord Registry’s possession of a New York State license for such collection does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of cells derived from umbilical cord tissue.
Several of these groundbreaking trials only use cord blood stem cells processed by Cord Blood Registry as a way of ensuring consistent quality. That means, saving with Cord Blood Registry gives families access to more uses and treatments.
CBR’s laboratory was specifically designed for newborn stem cell processing and storage, and consequently, CBR has invested millions of dollars to help ensure the long-term safety and viability of your newborn’s stem cells.
In recent years, umbilical cord blood has been used successfully to treat a variety of pediatric genetic, hematologic and oncologic disorders. This advance has resulted in both not-for-profit and for-profit cord blood banking programs. The AAP’s statement is intended to help guide physicians in answering parents’ questions about cord blood banking.
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.
In recent years, umbilical cord blood, which contains a rich source of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells, has been used successfully as an alternative allogeneic donor source to treat a variety of pediatric genetic, hematologic, immunologic, and oncologic disorders. Because there is diminished risk of graft-versus-host disease after transplantation of cord stem cells using matched related donors, the use of less-than-completely matched HLA cord blood stem cells may incur less risk of graft-versus-host disease than mismatched cells from either a related or unrelated “walking” donor, although this remains to be proven. Gene-therapy research involving modification of autologous cord blood stem cells for the treatment of childhood genetic disorders, although experimental at the present time, may prove to be of value. These scientific advances have resulted in the establishment of not-for-profit and for-profit cord blood–banking programs for allogeneic and autologous cord blood transplantation. Many issues confront institutions that wish to establish or participate in such programs. Parents often seek information from their physicians about this new biotechnology option. This document is intended to provide information to guide physicians in responding to parents’ questions about cord blood donation and banking and the types and quality of cord blood banks. Provided also are recommendations about appropriate ethical and operational standards, including informed consent policies, financial disclosures, and conflict-of-interest policies for physicians, institutions, and organizations that operate or have a relationship with cord blood–banking programs.
Just like other blood donations, there is no cost to the donor of cord blood. If you do not choose to store your baby’s blood, please consider donating it. Your donation could make a difference in someone else’s life.
Umbilical cord blood stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells. Umbilical cord blood stem cells are collected by your ob-gyn or a nurse from the umbilical cord after you give birth (but before your placenta is delivered). Embryonic stem cells are collected when a human embryo is destroyed.
“Processing” refers to separating the important components of the whole cord blood before cryopreservation. There are many methods used to process cord blood that can achieve the same goal: storing the important cells for potential future use. However, it’s important to point out some differences between methods:
Private cord blood banking can benefit those with a strong family history of certain diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and some cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. Parents who already have a child (in a household with biological siblings) who is sick with one of these diseases have the greatest chance of finding a match with their baby’s cord blood. Parents who have a family history of autism, Alzheimer’s, and type 1 diabetes can benefit from cord blood. Although these diseases aren’t currently treated with umbilical cord steam cells, researchers are exploring ways to treat them (and many more) with cord blood.
With President Obama’s lifting of the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, scientists had necessary funding for developing medical treatments, in which case with a new Trump’s administration it might be different now.