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Cord blood banking can be complex & difficult to research. To help consumers get started, our editors have spent over 200 hours reviewing the best cord blood registries & making this year’s selections of best all-around providers.
Umbilical cord blood can save lives. Cord blood is rich in stem cells that can morph into all sorts of blood cells, which can be used to treat diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and certain cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. There are a few ways for transplant patients to get blood cells (umbilical and placenta, bone marrow, peripheral/circulation), but cord blood is easier to match with patients, and because it is gathered during birth from the umbilical cord, it’s a painless procedure.
In the past years, there have been dramatic medical advances in the arena of stem cell research, and more discoveries are announced practically every month. Many doctors and researchers see great potential in the use of stem cells to reverse or cure many severe, life-threatening diseases. With these facts in mind, many parents are choosing to preserve the stems cells found in umbilical cord blood after birth. There are no health risks in doing so. The primary risk is that the $100 yearly fee for storage will be wasted in the event that the stem cells are never needed.
AlphaCord has a 100% success rate of viable specimens upon thaw. It has been in business for over a decade and is FDA-approved. The company aims to provide a low-cost means of collecting and processing cord blood for customers.
Current applications for newborn stem cells include treatments for certain cancers and blood, metabolic and immune disorders. Additionally, newborn stem cell preservation has a great potential to benefit the newborn’s immediate family members with stem cell samples preserved in their most pristine state.
The term “Cord Blood harvesting” has a slightly morbid sound, but in reality, it is a very worthwhile and potentially lifesaving field of medical science. Umbilical Cord blood is blood that remains in the umbilical cord after birth. This umbilical cord blood is full of stem cells, and these powerful cells can be harvested for use in medical testing, or for transplantation into another host. A transplantation of harvested umbilical cord blood can have a profound effect on the recovery of patients with a host of medical conditions such as leukemia, cancers, thalassemia, Diabetes and some other diseases.
3. Heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death in the United States, and stem cells may provide some relief. Research is underway to see if injecting the cells into the heart could help regenerate heart muscle damaged by, for example, a heart attack. Again, researchers have reported success in rodents.
Targeted efforts should be made to recruit underserved minorities (black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native individuals) in public cord blood–banking programs to extend to them potential treatments afforded other segments of society.
Check if the cord blood bank you’re considering is accredited with the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB). AABB is an international, not-for-profit organization that has been setting standards for both public and private cord blood banking companies for over 20 years. LifebankUSA is registered with the FDA and accredited by AABB. Click here for a list of AABB-accredited cord blood banking companies in the U.S. and around the world.
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.
One of the key things you’ll want the cord blood bank’s representative to explain to you is how the cord blood bank collects and stores cord blood. Collection and storage methods may differ across cord blood banking companies, and you’ll want to be sure that the cord blood bank complies with all federal standards.2
The cord blood of your baby is an abundant source of stem cells that are genetically related to your baby and your family. Stem cells are dominant cells in the way they contribute to the development of all tissues, organs, and systems in the body.
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
ViaCord’s Sibling Connection Program, a dedicated transplant program for siblings, was designed to help families in need of a stem cell transplant. This program provides ViaCord’s cord blood banking services at no cost to expecting parents. A family with a child with an established diagnosis of a disease that is currently treatable with sibling cord blood may be eligible.
FACT accredited: Cord blood companies that are FACT accredited have been evaluated by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy, and they’re found to have met the foundation’s standards of operation.
An alternative to a related donor involves seeking unrelated HLA-matched adult allogeneic donors outside of the family.2,6,11 There are more than 7 million potential unrelated volunteer adult donors registered in the National Marrow Donor Program registry.17 Although the number of patients who receive unrelated adult allogeneic donor stem cell transplants continues to increase each year, many patients are unable to find a fully matched donor, which diminishes access to transplantation therapy. Nonwhite patients have a lower chance of identifying a fully matched unrelated adult donor because of genetic heterogeneity and lack of nonwhite donors. Over the past decade, unrelated-donor, banked umbilical cord blood has been shown to contain sufficient numbers of stem cells for successful transplantation between unrelated, partially HLA-mismatched individuals.19–23 With advances in the clinical practice of cord blood transplantation, most patients unable to find a fully matched adult donor can identify a partially matched cord blood donor.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP, 2007) states that the use of banked umbilical cord blood as “biologic insurance” is unwarranted. The AAP also notes that many of the claims of private cord blood banks are unfounded. Unlike ACOG, the AAP recommends cord blood collection and banking for all families; however, their distinction is that all cord blood should be banked in public banks for use by the general population. In one study, the researchers reported that when pediatric transplant specialists were surveyed, overall, they did not recommend private cord blood banking (Thornley et al., 2009). The AAP recommends private cord blood banking only if a full sibling has a medical diagnosis for which stem cells are currently being used for treatment.
Another important disadvantage that is not well understood by the general public is the limited use of an infant’s own umbilical cord blood stem cells later in life, called an autologous transplant. Commercial cord blood banks often advertise the banking of the infant’s cord blood as “biologic insurance.” However, the chance that a child would be able to use his or her own cord blood is extremely small: from a 1:400 to a 1:200,000 chance over the child’s lifetime (Sullivan, 2008). In fact, there are certain instances in which the use of one’s own umbilical cord blood is contraindicated, as in cases when the defect is of a genetic origin. For example, autologous cord blood stem cells cannot be used to treat malignant cancers such as leukemia because the genetic mutations for the cancer already exist on the DNA of the cord blood. Using one’s own stem cells would be, in effect, “contaminating” oneself with the same disease process (Percer, 2009).
10. Organ failure. What better way to ease the shortage of organs for transplantation than to grow new ones? That’s what some scientists think, and with stem cells, that vision may become more than a pipe dream. Last year, researchers grew a beating rat heart in the lab with the help of heart cells from newborn rats, preliminary proof of the concept.
Families that are predisposed to certain diseases, that are ethnically mixed, that are adopting a newborn child, or that have a family member who may need a stem cell transplant should take special care to understand the value the cells may provide and their storage options.
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The potential powers of these cells have researchers excited. But what that scientific hope means for expectant parents facing decisions about cord blood banking is far from clear. For all of the promise, there are lots of reasons why umbilical cord cells may turn out to be less useful than thought. Read my next post for more about these potential drawbacks.