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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.
7. Lung diseases. From human embryonic stem cells, researchers in Texas have created transplantable sources of lung cells in the lab. Those lung cells could potentially be used to repair damage brought on by a variety of pulmonary conditions or by lung trauma resulting from a car accident, bullet wound, or sports injury. Unpublished studies using such cells have shown promise for tissue repair in mice with acute lung injury, the group reports.
Cord blood is the fastest growing source of stem cells in pediatric transplants, and ongoing research indicates that we’ve only just begun to harness the healing power of these amazing cells.3, 15 By collaborating with some of the country’s leading hospitals and research centers, ViaCord is helping to advance critical research in cord blood stem cell therapy and to unlock the promise of cord tissue stem cells.
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.
Only three to five ounces of blood is collected from each umbilical cord. This small amount is enough to treat a sick child, but not an adult, unless multiple units of matched cord blood are used, says William T. Shearer, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics and Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Donating your baby’s cord blood to a public bank is always free. The limitations of the public banking network in the United States are: they only collect donations at large birthing hospitals in ethnically diverse communities, the mother must pass a health screening, they prefer registration by 34 weeks of pregnancy, and they only save the largest cord blood collections. The potential reward of public donation is that your baby could Be The Match to save a life!
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.
You’ve just visited the doctor and the good news is that you’re going to have a baby and everything looks good. Thirty years ago, your doctor may have given you a baby book and information about products that sponsors want you to buy for your new addition. Today, along with pretty much the same materials, you’ll be asked to consider saving the blood of your newborn that’s left over in the umbilical cord and placenta after the delivery. Another big decision, and possibly a costly one.
Umbilical cord blood was once thought of as a waste product. Now, years after the first successful umbilical cord blood transplant, more families seek information about whether or not to save their newborn’s cord blood. Childbirth educators may be one of the main sources that an expectant family depends on to gain more knowledge about cord blood banking in order to make an informed decision. Preserving umbilical cord blood in public banks is advisable for any family; however, it is recommended that expectant families only consider private cord blood banking when they have a relative with a known disorder that is treatable by stem cell transplants. The childbirth educator is encouraged to be well versed on the topic of cord blood banking, so that as questions from class participants arise, the topic can be explored and addressed appropriately.
Cord blood can’t be used to treat everything. If your child is born with a genetic condition such as muscular dystrophy or spina bifida, then the stem cells would have that condition, says Dr. Kurtzberg. But if the cord blood donor is healthy and there is a sibling or another immediate family member who has a genetic condition, the cord blood could be a good match for them.
At the end of a recent childbirth class, I found two couples engaged in a lengthy discussion. In the course of the conversation, both couples agreed that their goal was to do the best things for their pregnancy and birth. They were attending childbirth classes to learn how to support normal birth. They each were planning to attend breastfeeding classes. As their conversation continued, the first couple described their decision to bank the umbilical cord blood of their yet unborn daughter. They were adamant that their decision was the best action for them because they had a strong family history of myasthenia gravis. They stated that they had researched the issue by talking to several different cord blood banks, and they had decided on one particular bank because it processed the cord blood without the use of the anticoagulant drug, heparin. The couple went on to parrot back the information that the cord blood bank had told them. It was evident that the first couple wanted what was best for their yet unborn child.
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.
The primary benefit to cord blood banking is that it provides a type of medical insurance. This insurance is not from a financial perspective, but rather takes the form of having the necessary medical building blocks available should they be needed in the event of certain illnesses and diseases. Those medical building blocks are the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood.
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.
The process for umbilical cord blood harvesting is straightforward: An obstetrician or doctor harvests the umbilical cord blood at the time of the baby’s birth. Timing is very important, as the umbilical cord blood must be harvested quickly so that the cells remain fresh. The harvested umbilical cord blood should preferably be at least 75 mL to make sure that there is enough cord blood and stem cells to be transplanted at a later stage.
Choosing a bank (specifically a private bank) for her daughter’s cord blood made perfect sense to Julie Lehrman, a mom based in Chicago. “We wanted the extra assurance that we were doing everything we could to keep Lexi healthy,” Lehrman says. “I was older when Lexi was born, and there’s a lot we didn’t know about my mom’s health history, so we felt that we were making a smart decision.” Fortunately, Lexi was born healthy, and neither she nor anyone else in the family has needed the cord blood since it was stored seven years ago. But Lehrman has no regrets; she still feels the family made a wise investment. “Lexi or her brother or even one of us could still need that blood in the future, so I’m thankful that we have it.” But banking your child’s cord blood may not be the right decision for you. Read on to see if you should opt for private cord blood banking.
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.
Marketing materials by Viacord and Cord Blood Registry, the two largest companies, do not mention that cord blood stem cells cannot be used by the child for genetic diseases, although the fine print does state that cord blood may not be effective for all of the listed conditions.
With umbilical cord blood harvesting, the harvested cord blood does not come from the newborn baby itself; instead, the cord blood is harvested from the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after birth. Umbilical cord blood is never harvested from either mother or child, but only from the unused blood in the umbilical cord, which would otherwise be discarded waste. The harvesting procedure takes only a few minutes and there is zero danger to either the parent or the baby.
Direct-donation umbilical cord blood banks function as an amalgamation of public and private banks. Direct-donation banks collect cord blood without charging fees. In addition, they accept autogenous donations and reserve them only for the family, especially for a family whose infant has a sibling with a disorder that may be treated with umbilical cord blood stem cells (Moise, 2005).
Nagatoshi Y, Kawano Y, Okamura J. Comparison of the outcomes of allogeneic bone marrow transplantation from partially mismatched related donors, matched sibling donors, and matched unrelated donors in Japanese pediatric patients: a single center result. Pediatr Transplant.2004;8 :260– 266
There are two main types of cord blood banks: public and private. Public cord blood banks are usually nonprofit companies that store your donated cord blood for free, to be used for any sick child in another family or for research purposes, so accessing and using your own cord blood is not guaranteed. Private cord blood banks are companies that require a registration fee (plus annual storage fees) for your cord blood, but it is saved specifically for your own family, so you’ll have ready access to it.
There are several cord blood banks that are accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks. Most offer information on cord blood banking and provide private cord blood banking services. With a little research, you should be able to locate a credible cord blood bank online.