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Back in the 1980s, umbilical cord blood caught the attention of researchers who suspected that the often-discarded tissue could be a valuable source of shape-shifting stem cells. These cells, which can become several different types of blood cells, are similar to the specialized stem cells found in bone marrow that can churn out new blood cells. Such stem cells are found in adult blood, too, but not as abundantly.
Let’s look back at the expectant couple in my childbirth class who asked about banking their infant’s umbilical cord blood. They should not base their decision to bank the umbilical cord blood on the type of anticoagulant used to preserve the sample; likewise, they should not obtain all of their information on cord blood banking from the private cord blood bank, whose major agenda is to gain another client. Instead, they must be encouraged to research various resources for reliable information (see Table 4). If they have evidence that stem cells are used currently to treat a specific disease process that is affecting a family member, and is not simply a proposed idea, then it might be in their best interest to privately bank the umbilical cord blood. However, they should be aware that simply banking the cord blood does not ensure a cure, and they would most likely be banking the blood not for the current baby, but for some other family member. They must also be aware of the cost involved in the banking process. Finally, if they do not have a relative with a disease process treated with stem cells or there is no evidence that stem cells are used to treat the diseases that are known to be in their family, then they should consider public banking of the umbilical cord blood (if they have access to a public cord blood bank).
Most of the diseases for which HSCT is a standard treatment are disorders of blood cell lineage. The proliferation by which blood cells are formed from stem cells is illustrated in the side graphic (click on the image to expand it); you can also read about specific cell types in the immune system in more detail. In the United States, most health insurance providers will pay for a stem cell transplant if it is a “standard therapy” for the patient’s diagnosis.
Another advantage of using umbilical cord blood stem cells is the decreased risk of the transmission of infectious disease. This particular advantage is partly because umbilical cord blood is almost never contaminated by Epstein-Barr virus or cytomegalovirus (Drew, 2005; Gonzalez-Ryan et al., 2000). Additionally, the processing of cord blood includes collecting data on the history of infection during the mother’s pregnancy. For example, if the pregnant woman has a history of group B streptococcus, active genital herpes, or prolonged rupture of membranes and chorioamnionitis, umbilical cord blood is not saved. Generally, samples of the mother’s blood are also drawn to test for infectious diseases, such as hepatitis, human immunodeficiency virus, and syphilis (Moise, 2005). Furthermore, after the cord blood units are collected, they are screened for disease, and any units that are deemed contaminated or infected are thrown away (Gunning, 2007).
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.
It’s incredible how much little we know about the science when it comes down to the almost everything. A group of very open-minded scientists studying and understanding the spiritual laws and the laws of the universe. learned through various experiments how to capture the essence of the sun into the high-quality organic oil.
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.
Some researchers suspect that umbilical cord blood contains other cells that may have therapeutic effects beyond the blood. Specialized immune cells may be able to tweak brain function, for instance. Trials around the world are studying umbilical cord blood’s capabilities in a wide range of diseases (see Table 2 here): Cerebral palsy, autism, diabetes and lupus are currently under investigation. The cells are even being tested for an ameliorating role in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.
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.
There are several advantages of using umbilical cord blood stem cells over bone marrow stem cells for transplants (see Table 2). The first advantage is that umbilical cord blood is relatively easy to collect and process. Once considered a substance to be thrown away after a birth, now the cord blood can be easily saved. After it is saved and sent to a storage facility, the cord blood is quickly available for use within days to weeks after processing. In contrast, bone marrow stem cells can take much longer to find a match, collect the sample, and process. The process for bone marrow transplantation can take from weeks to months. The collection process for cord blood is not painful to either mother or child and can be done either prior to or after the delivery of the placenta (Gonzalez-Ryan, VanSyckle, Coyne, & Glover, 2000; Percer, 2009). Bone marrow transplants, on the other hand, require the donor to be hospitalized, anesthetized, and experience postcollection pain and discomfort. Thus, compared to cord blood, bone marrow collection and transplantation of stem cells are more costly (Drew, 2005; Moise, 2005).
The “cell recovery rate” is often used to compare processing methods. Expressed as a percentage, the cell recovery rate tells you how many cells are retrieved from the original cord blood collection, once plasma has been removed and red blood cells have been reduced or removed. It is expected that some cells will be lost during processing, and most processing methods have published cell recovery rates between 80%—99%
Certain public cord blood banks let you mail in your cord blood. You have to decide before the birth if you want to donate your cord blood. If the hospital where you’re delivering doesn’t accept donations, you can contact a lab that offers a mail-in delivery program. After you’ve passed the lab’s screening process, they’ll send you a kit that you can use to package your blood and mail it in, explains Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation (parentsguidecordblood.org), a nonprofit dedicated to educating parents about cord blood donation and cord blood therapists.
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.
Cord blood has been used for 20 years to treat more than 80 serious diseases.34 Successful treatments have paved the way for further research and today, FDA-regulated clinical trials are exploring the use of a child’s own stem cells for conditions that currently have no cure.
Depending on the predetermined period of storage, the initial fee can range from $900 to $2100. Annual storage fees after the initial storage fee are approximately $100. It is common for storage facilities to offer prepaid plans at a discount and payment plans to help make the initial storage a more attractive option for you and your family.
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.
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.
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Stem cells are able to transform into other types of cells in the body to create new growth and development. They are also the building blocks of the immune system. The transformation of these cells provides doctors with a way to treat leukemia and some inherited health disorders.
4. If your family, especially your children, are of mixed ethnic background, it may be impossible to find an adult bone marrow donor who is a perfect match. In that event, cord blood from even a partially matched sibling would be invaluable if a stem cell transplant is necessary.
Ballen K., Broxmeyer H. E., McCullough J., Piaciabello W., Rebulla P., Verfaillie C. M., & Wagner J. E. (2001). Current status of cord blood banking and transplantation in the United States and Europe. Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation, 7(12), 635–645 [PubMed]
In a number of genetic, hematologic, immunologic, metabolic, and oncologic disorders, reconstitution of bone marrow (transplantation) can be a potentially life-saving procedure.1–16 Allogeneic (related or unrelated) or autologous (self) bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells are the usual sources of hematopoietic progenitor cells to achieve this goal. If autologous stem cells are not available or cannot be used, the best option for successful reconstitution therapy is to secure stem cells from an HLA-matched sibling.1,3,11 Close matching confers a higher probability of successful engraftment and minimizes the risk of potentially fatal graft-versus-host disease. Unfortunately, there is only a 25% chance for identifying a full HLA match in a sibling donor.17,18
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.