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Umbilical cord blood was once thought of as a waste product of the birthing experience, but now it is valued for its content of stem cells. Today, more than 20 years after the first successful umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant, more families are seeking information about whether or not to invest in saving their newborn’s umbilical cord blood. Saving the cord blood in public banks is a worthy undertaking for any family. It is recommended that expectant families only consider cord blood banking in private banks when they have a relative with a known disorder that is already treatable by stem cell transplants. Moreover, expectant families should not rely on commercial cord blood banks as their sole source of information about cord blood banking.
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.
Finally, there is a significant lack of regulation for umbilical cord blood banking. The lack of quality control, in turn, affects the quality of the specimen available for transplant. Some cord blood banks have submitted to voluntary accreditation, but the process of accreditation varies from bank to bank, whether public or private (McGuckin & Forraz, 2008; Moise, 2005).
24/7 opperation of services, including holidays, is a must. As we all know, giving birth can happen at any time of day, which is why core blood banks should be at the ready for whenever your little one make his or her grand debut. Select a cord blood bank that utilizes industry approved standards for shipping. Temperature fluctuations speeds up cell death which affects the number of viable cells that reaches the laboratory for storage. Cord blood banks which use commercial shipping services, such as FedEx, use heavily insulated boxes to protect specimens. While others use medical couriers who specialize in delivering medical specimens, for added protection of your cord blood or tissue specimens.
Your own cord blood will always be accessible. This applies only if you pay to store your cord blood at a private bank. The blood is reserved for your own family; nobody else can access or use it, and it will never be allotted to another family or be donated to research. If you donate your cord blood to a public bank, on the other hand, anyone who needs compatible cord blood can have it; there’s no guarantee that it will be available if and when your family needs it.
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 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.
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.
New England Cord Blood Bank was founded in 1971 and is one of the pioneers in processing and cryopreservation of human cells and tissue. The company is continuing to expand its research and development center.
There is little doubt that scientists believe umbilical cord blood stem cells hold promise for the future. Cord blood stem cells are already used to treat blood disorders such as aplastic anemia, and research is underway to determine if they can treat other more common conditions like type 1 diabetes. But many experts question whether many companies’s marketing materials confuse or even mislead parents about the usefulness of private banking.
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.
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.
Public cord blood companies are mostly nonprofit companies that are traded publicly, and doctors can utilize matching cord blood in these banks for treating their patients, even if the blood is not their own.
Hard numbers are tricky to pin down, but between that first transplant in 1988 and 2015, an estimated 35,000 umbilical cord blood transplants had been performed globally. That number includes people treated for leukemia and other types of cancer, blood disorders and immune diseases. And the utility of umbilical cord cells may stretch well beyond the disorders that the cells are currently being used for. “If you read the literature, it’s pretty exciting,” says pediatrician and immunologist William Shearer of Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.
To begin a discussion of umbilical cord blood banking, it must first be understood that the component from the blood that is salvaged is the stem cells. Stem cells are unspecialized cells that are the basis of all tissue and organ cells of the body. There are three main sources of stem cells in humans: embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, and umbilical cord stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are generally used in research but not in clinical practice. Adult stem cells are found in various locations in the human body, but they are most commonly found in bone marrow (McGuckin & Forraz, 2008). Over the years, transplants of bone marrow stem cells have been used clinically to treat disease processes in which stem cells are beneficial. Umbilical cord blood stem cells were historically considered a waste product of the birthing process but are now known to have up to 10 times more stem cells than adult bone marrow (Gunning, 2007).
Rocha V, Wagner JE Jr, Sobocinski KA, et al. Graft-versus-host disease in children who have received a cord-blood or bone marrow transplant from an HLA-identical sibling. Eurocord and International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry Working Committee on Alternative Donor and Stem Cell Sources. N Engl J Med.2000;342 :1846– 1854
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In recent years, umbilical cord blood, which contains a rich source of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells, has been used successfully as an alternative allogeneic donor source to treat a variety of pediatric genetic, hematologic, immunologic, and oncologic disorders. Because there is diminished risk of graft-versus-host disease after transplantation of cord stem cells using matched related donors, the use of less-than-completely matched HLA cord blood stem cells may incur less risk of graft-versus-host disease than mismatched cells from either a related or unrelated “walking” donor, although this remains to be proven. Gene-therapy research involving modification of autologous cord blood stem cells for the treatment of childhood genetic disorders, although experimental at the present time, may prove to be of value. These scientific advances have resulted in the establishment of not-for-profit and for-profit cord blood–banking programs for allogeneic and autologous cord blood transplantation. Many issues confront institutions that wish to establish or participate in such programs. Parents often seek information from their physicians about this new biotechnology option. This document is intended to provide information to guide physicians in responding to parents’ questions about cord blood donation and banking and the types and quality of cord blood banks. Provided also are recommendations about appropriate ethical and operational standards, including informed consent policies, financial disclosures, and conflict-of-interest policies for physicians, institutions, and organizations that operate or have a relationship with cord blood–banking programs.
Frances Verter, PhD, founded the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood in 1998 and has been a Scientific Advisor to Community Blood Services since 2007. In 2011 the NMDP presented her with their Lifeline Award in recognition of her efforts to improve public education about cord blood donation.
While some companies may advertise their cord tissue preservation service as “treatment-ready”, this is a misnomer. In the U.S. there are currently no treatments available that use cord tissue cells. Without knowing what the treatment protocols may look like in the future, preserving the cord tissue sample whole today means that all of the available cell types in this precious resource may be available to your family in the future.
There are around 20 companies in the United States offering public cord blood banking and 34 companies offering private (or family) cord blood banking. Public cord blood banking is completely free (collecting, testing, processing, and storing), but private cord blood banking costs between $1,400 and $2,300 for collecting, testing, and registering, plus between $95 and $125 per year for storing. Both public and private cord blood banks require moms to be tested for various infections (like hepatitis and HIV).
In 1989, Cryo-Cell International was founded in Oldsmar, FL, making it the oldest cord blood bank in the world. By 1992, it began to store cord blood. In addition to pursuing a wide variety of accreditations (AABB, cGMP, and ISO 1345), it was the first private cord blood bank in the U.S. to be awarded FACT accreditation. In 2017, it initiated a $100,000 Engraftment Guarantee (previously $75,000), the highest quality guarantee of any U.S. cord blood bank.
These are diseases for which transplants of blood-forming stem cells (Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplants, HSCT) are a standard treatment. For some diseases they are the only therapy, and in other diseases they are only employed when front-line therapies have failed or the disease is very aggressive. The lists below include ALL therapies that use blood-forming stem cells, without distinction as to whether the stem cells were extracted from bone marrow, peripheral blood, or cord blood.
A few years ago, cord blood was simply discarded as medical waste after a birth. However, in the past few years, doctors have recognized that the stem cells have unique qualities which can be used in the treatment of certain cancers. The most common medical use is for transplantation in many situations where bone marrow is considered. In the future, it is possible that scientists will discover more diseases that can be cured with cord blood.
Another important consideration for autologous use is that, currently, it is unknown how long umbilical cord blood will maintain its usefulness while frozen. Research indicates that cord blood stem cells can be maintained up to 15 years, but it is unknown if the cells would be preserved over the entire lifetime of a person (Ballen et al., 2001; Hess, 1997). Furthermore, financial costs are associated with maintaining the cord blood over time. Kaimal, Smith, Laros, Caughey, and Cheng (2009) studied the cost-effectiveness of private umbilical cord blood banking for autologous use and concluded that it was not cost-effective in most instances because the chances that it would be used are extremely small.
The most obvious argument against is that the odds of needing cord blood for medical treatment is very, very slim. Below is a news release on a policy published in the July,1999 issue of Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
Prices subject to change until they are paid. Fees apply to single-birth, U.S. customers only. Cancellation fees may apply. All major credit cards accepted. Payment plans cover first-year fees only; future annual storage fees are not included. If not paying by credit/debit card, total first year fees are due at the time of enrollment.
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.
Parents have the option to privately store their newborn’s cord blood stem cells. There are now over a dozen private cord blood banks, and more open every year. Some have their own labs, while others contract with a lab. Cord blood stem cell banking is not a regulated industry; there are no certifications or licensing requirements to open a cord blood bank. Several banks are accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks. Please keep in mind there is a big difference between being accredited by the AABB and being a member of the AABB. To be accredited, the lab must follow strict standards and be inspected by the association.
Now when you know what is cord blood, you might be wondering how it is collected. Well, cord blood is collected right after the birth of your little one. The procedure is completely painless and free from risks as well. The procedure is so quick, hassle-free and painless that neither a newborn nor a new mother realizes the entire procedure has taken place. Following is a list of steps depicting how the procedure is actually convened. Read on, to grasp a better insight on cord blood banking and its proceedings.
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.
A history of releasing cord blood units for therapy. “This shows they’re not just selling contracts to parents — there are doctors who are actually accepting units of cord blood that have been stored there for therapy,” says Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to educating parents about cord blood donation and cord blood therapists.
CBR presented data, in the form of a poster, at the 2008 joint annual meeting of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) and the American Society of Blood and Marrow Transplants (ASMBT). In the poster, CBR showed results obtained during implementation of the AXP System. The published abstract reported that, under the controlled conditions of the study, the average recovery rate of the mononucleated cell (MNC) population was approximately 99% (specifically 98.7%). The results presented at this meeting are consistent with some of the high MNC recovery rates reported by other groups that have adopted AXP System (Rubinstein P. Cord blood banking for clinical transplantation. Bone Marrow Transplantation. 2009;44:635-642).
9. Sickle cell anemia. Stem cell researchers are exploring ways to correct numerous blood disorders, including sickle cell anemia. Mice have been cured of the sometimes-deadly condition after receiving transfusions of stem cells made from their own skin cells.