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That fetal blood holds all sorts of interesting — and potentially therapeutic — cells and molecules. This realization has, in some cases, changed the way the umbilical cord and placenta are handled during birth. Instead of tossing it aside, some doctors, scientists and parents are choosing to bank this fetal blood — harvesting it from the baby’s umbilical cord and placenta, freezing it and storing it away for later.
Given the difficulty in estimating the need for using one’s own cord blood cells for transplantation, private storage of cord blood as “biological insurance” is unwise. However, banking should be considered if there is a family member with a current or potential need to undergo a stem cell transplantation.
Cord blood can only be collected at birth, that’s why it’s important to do your research well before your baby’s due date. Watch this short video to learn exactly how cord blood is collected, processed and stored.
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.
When you consider that public banks can only expect to ship 1-2% of their inventory for transplant, you can quickly understand why most public banks are struggling to make ends meet. That struggle means that fewer collection programs are staffed, and there are fewer opportunities for parents to donate to the public good. We said earlier that public banks only keep cord blood donations over a minimum of 900 million cells, but today most public banks have raised that threshold to 1.5 billion cells. The reason is that the largest units are the ones most likely to be used for transplants that bring income to the bank. Family cord blood banks do not need to impose volume thresholds because they have a profit margin on every unit banked.
Research on stem cell transplants began in the 1950s, with successful bone marrow transplants occurring in the 1970s, often to treat cancer patients whose own bone marrow was destroyed by chemotherapy and radiation. The first successful umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant was reported as occurring in the late 1980s. The recipient was a 6-year-old American boy from North Carolina who was treated for Fanconi’s anemia (a genetic disorder) at Hospital St. Louis in Paris, France, using cord blood obtained from his younger sister’s birth. Interestingly, more than 20 years after the transplant, this young man is alive and well. Not only did he survive long term, but both his immune system and his blood were transformed by the transplant of his sister’s cord blood stem cells. Soon after this first documented cord blood stem cell transplant, the first public umbilical cord blood bank was established in 1991 in New York (McGuckin & Forraz, 2008).
2. Diabetes. For the many Americans with type 1 diabetes, whose insulin-making pancreatic cells have been killed off by their immune system, stem cells may be the answer. Last year, scientists reported that they had coaxed human embryonic stem cells into becoming insulin-producing, blood sugar-regulating cells in diabetic mice. The aim: to someday do the same for people.
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.
Quite simply, cord blood is the remaining blood from your baby’s umbilical cord and placenta after birth. Cord blood is loaded with our “stem cells” which are origins of the body’s immune and blood system and maybe the origin of other organs and important systems in the body. Stem cells are important because they have the ability to regenerate into other types of cells in the body.
A courier collection service. Private banks have a person pick up your donated cord blood, which helps ensure that it arrives at your chosen bank quickly and doesn’t get lost along the way, and that the temperature will remain consistent enough to be accepted at the lab. (Public banks usually send an insulated kit for you to preserve and mail the cord blood.)
We chose the site of our lab for one reason in particular: safety. As one of the safest cities in the US, Tucson ensures our families’ samples will be protected from natural disaster. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, could interrupt consistent long-term storage of stem cells.
Stem cells in the umbilical cord blood were first discovered in 1978. The stem cells found in cord blood give rise to all the other blood cells and are the foundation of our bodies’ immune system. More recently, scientists discovered a rich supply of a different type of stem cell in the cord tissue. These stem cells give rise to the tissues that comprise our nervous system, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, skin, bone, cartilage and more.
A well-established history. Public banks are affiliated with nonprofit research institutions or hospitals, so they have a better chance of being managed more soundly. For families without a history of diseases treated by cord blood, such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that cord blood be donated to public banks. 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 choose to bank cord blood, the AAP recommends public cord blood banking (instead of private) to cut down on expenditures. Private cord blood banks are affiliated with business corporations, so, like any business, they may go under, says William T. Shearer, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics and Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
There are no health risks related to cord blood collection. Cord blood is retrieved from the umbilical cord after it has been cut, thus preventing any pain, discomfort, or harm. This process is completely safe.
§ CBR Systems, Inc.’s activities for New York State residents are limited to collection of umbilical cord tissue and long-term storage of umbilical cord-derived stem cells. CBR Systems, Inc.’s possession of a New York State license for such collection and long-term storage does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of these cells.
A cord blood industry report by Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation found that, among developed nations, cord blood banking cost is only 2% of the annual income of those households likely to bank.
The blood that remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta after birth is called “cord blood”. Umbilical cord blood, umbilical cord tissue, and the placenta are all very rich sources of newborn stem cells. The stem cells in the after birth are not embryonic. Most of the stem cells in cord blood are blood-forming or hematopoietic stem cells. Most of the stem cells in cord tissue and the placenta are mesenchymal stem cells.
Since 1988, cord blood transplants have been used to treat over 80 diseases in hospitals around the world. Inherited blood disorders such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia can be cured by cord blood transplant. Over the past decade, clinical trials have been developing cord blood therapies for conditions that affect brain development in early childhood, such as cerebral palsy and autism.
However, this does not mean more is better. Cord blood banks we reviewed are similar in terms of the quality of services they provided. Affordable services are still available, especially with the different discount options offered by many of the top cord blood banks reviewed.
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.
Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, established in 1998, is one of the largest public cord blood banks. It’s affiliated with Duke University, where trials are currently taking place to treat children with cerebral palsy with their own cord blood. Parents can mail in their cord blood donations and receive financial aid if they have a sick older child or family member who can be treated with cord blood.
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.
It’s hard to ignore the ads for cord blood banks, offering a lifetime of protection for your children. If you’re an expectant mom, there’s information coming at you constantly from your doctor’s office, magazines, online, and perhaps even your yoga class.