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Properly preserved cord blood is long-lasting. Cord blood is stored in a nitrogen freezer (the same technology used to freeze donated sperm), so it can last for a long time. “The scientist who first developed cord blood preservation methods in 1990 has confirmed that some of the first specimens he stored 23 plus years ago are just as potent as fresh cord blood,” says Mary Halet, Director, Central Region at Be The Match, which is operated by the National Bone Marrow Foundation.
Cord blood banking means preserving the newborn stem cells found in the blood of the umbilical cord and the placenta. After a baby is born, and even after delayed cord clamping, there is blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta that holds valuable newborn stem cells. Parents have a choice between donating cord blood to a public bank for free, or paying to store it for their family in a private bank. Cord blood banking includes the whole process from collection through storage of newborn stem cells for future medical purposes.
After a baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta are no longer needed and are usually discarded. However, the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta is rich with blood-forming cells. (These cells are not embryonic stem cells.) By collecting and freezing this blood, the healthy blood-forming cells can be stored and may later be used by a patient who needs them.
Cord blood banking takes blood from the umbilical cord at the time of birth, and donates it to a public blood bank, or stores it in a private one. Since this blood is so rich in stem cells, which have the potential to become any human cell, it could someday be used as a treatment for the child or their family members.
Cord blood holds promise for future medical procedures. Scientists are still studying more ways to treat more diseases with cord blood. At Duke University, for example, researchers are using patients’ own cord blood in trials for cerebral palsy and Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (a condition in which the brain does not receive enough oxygen). Trials are also under way for the treatment of autism at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute in Sacramento, California.
For families that choose to bank cord blood, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends public cord blood banking. Estimates vary, but the chances of a child having a stem cell transplant, with either bone marrow or cord blood, are 1 in 217 over a lifetime. Although the 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 decide on cord blood banking, the AAP recommends public cord blood banking (instead of private) to cut down on costs. If you donate cord blood and your child eventually needs it, you can get it back as long as it hasn’t been discarded or used.
2 Cordblood.com, (2014). Cord Blood Stem Cell Banking | Cord Blood Registry | CBR. [online] Available at: http://www.cordblood.com/cord-blood-banking-cost/cord-blood-stem-cells [Accessed 22 March. 2017].
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.
The blood within your newborn baby’s umbilical cord contains young stem cells that can renew themselves and become specialized. These cord blood stem cells have been proven in treatment to help children replace damaged blood cells with healthy ones and strengthen their immune systems. Cord blood banking is the process of collecting and storing these stem cells for potential medical use.
Bielorai B, Trakhtenbrot L, Amariglio N, et al. Multilineage hematopoietic engraftment after allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplantation without conditioning in SCID patients. Bone Marrow Transplant.2004;34 :317– 320
Prior to transplanting any type of tissue, a “matching” process must occur to increase the success of the transplant and decrease the likelihood that the transplant will be rejected. The rejection of a transplanted tissue is called “graft versus host disease.” The matching process dates back to the late 1950s when the human leukocyte antigens were discovered. There are two classes of human leukocyte antigens. The first class is located on the surface of almost all of the cells with a nucleus within the body of the cell. The second class of human leukocyte antigens is located on the surface of immune cells. Each of the two classes of antigens has three subgroups, creating six antigens for which matching can occur. Thus, a “6 of 6” matching of the antigens represents a “perfect” match. Beyond the matching process, other factors contribute to the success or failure of a stem cell transplant. These factors include, but are not limited to, the age of both the donor and the patient, the type of disease being treated, and the number of stem cells being transplanted (Moise, 2005).
As a result of these advances, it is not unreasonable to hope that cord blood may eventually be used to treat a wider variety of auto-immune and degenerative diseases than is currently being done. If so, (and there are solid indications by researchers that this indeed is the case), it makes perfect sense to consider private cord blood banking.
It depends on who you ask. Although commercial cord blood banks often bill their services as “biological insurance” against future diseases, the blood doesn’t often get used. One study says the chance that a child will use their cord blood over their lifetime is between 1 in 400 and 1 in 200,000.
Not all moms can donate their cord blood. Moms who are not eligible are those who: are younger than 18 years old (in most states), have been treated for cancer or have received chemotherapy for another illness, have had malaria in the last three years, or have been treated for a blood disease such as HIV or hepatitis. It’s also not possible to donate cord blood if a mom has delivered her baby prematurely (there may not be enough blood to collect) or delivered multiples (but it’s possible to bank your cord blood of multiples privately).
With public cord blood banks, there’s a greater chance that your cord blood will be put to use because it could be given to any child or adult in need, says William T. Shearer, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics and Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Cord blood is donated and is put on a national registry, to be made available for any transplant patient. So if your child should need the cord blood later in life, there’s no guarantee you would be able to get it back.
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