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Part of the reason for the dominance of these three companies in terms of the total number of units stored is that they are three of the oldest cord blood banks within the U.S., founded in 1992, 1993, and 1989, respectively. All three of these cord blood banks also support cord blood research and clinical trials.
Harvesting and banking cord blood is a fairly simple procedure that can be performed during vaginal or cesarian deliveries without interrupting the birth process. The doctor or nurse will collect the cord blood after the umbilical cord has been clamped. The collection of cord blood is not painful, intrusive or risky to the mother or baby.
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.
The main disadvantage of cord blood transplants is that they take at least a week longer to “engraft”, which means repopulate the patient’s blood supply so that cell counts reach minimum acceptable levels. The longer engraftment time is a risk because it leaves the patient vulnerable to a fatal infection for a longer time.
Physicians or other professionals who recruit pregnant women and their families for for-profit placental cord blood stem cell banking should disclose any financial interest or other potential conflict of interest they have in the procedure to their patients.
Cord blood therapies have gotten more successful, and they also hold the promise of future innovative medical procedures for conditions like cerebral palsy and autism. Currently, cord blood 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. It’s an even more valuable resource for ethnic minorities, who statistically have a harder time finding stem cell matches in the registry of adult bone marrow donors.
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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.
Stem cells’ role is critical for regenerative medicine. A stem cell is a special type of cell because it is the basis for all the other cells in our bodies. Stem cells have the ability to develop into one of many different types of cells. This process of a stem cell becoming a specific type of cell like a skin cell, blood cell or bone cell is known as differentiation. The other unique ability of stem cells is to replicate quickly. Combined, these abilities can quickly replenish different types of cells, making stem cells a driving factor or major enhancement in the healing process.
Public umbilical cord blood banks accept altruistic donations of cord blood and do not charge donation fees. Donated units are also processed, antigen typed, and frozen, ready for use. Unlike private banks, public banks do not reserve the units for the family that donated them; rather, units are available to the general public. In fact, a family that donates the blood would be no more likely to be a recipient of the blood than anyone else in the general population. Public cord blood banks function much like venous blood banks. The blood is released on an “as-needed” basis, and a processing fee may be charged to recoup some of the cost of storage (Moise, 2005; Percer, 2009).
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.
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.
Recently, it was shown that umbilical cord blood contains a sufficient number of hematopoietic stem cells to be used for transplantation. More than 5500 unrelated-donor cord blood stem cell transplants for a variety of pediatric genetic,22,24–31 hematologic,22,24,25,29,32 immunologic,28 metabolic,26,27,30 and oncologic19,20,33–36 disorders have been performed to date (Table 1). The 1-year survival may be as high as 75% to 90% after sibling HLA-matched cord blood donor stem cell transplantation21,24,29 and 40% to 80% after unrelated cord blood stem cell transplantation.19,20,26,27,33,35,36 Advantages of the use of cord blood include the fact that it is readily available, carries less risk of transmission of blood-borne infectious diseases, and is transplantable across HLA barriers with diminished risk of graft-versus-host disease compared with similarly mismatched stem cells from the peripheral blood or bone marrow of related or unrelated donors.21,34,35,37 Autologous stem cells38,39 have been used for gene therapy in infants with severe combined immunodeficiency, but the appearance of T-lymphocyte leukemia in some patients has indicated the need for more basic research before additional clinical trials of gene therapy can be undertaken.
The stem cells obtained from umbilical cord blood are also less likely than bone marrow stem cells to be rejected in transplants. Considered to be immunologically immature, umbilical cord blood stem cells produce significantly fewer natural killer cells, creating a substantial decrease in rejection. Consequently, cord blood stem cells require less rigorous antigen tissue matching for transplants than bone marrow stem cells (Sullivan, 2008). Research indicates that a mismatch of up to two antigen sites still provides successful clinical outcomes (Ballen, 2006; Fox et al., 2007). In fact, researchers report that the rate of rejection for cord blood stem cell transplants is half the rate of rejection for bone marrow transplants (Ballen et al., 2001). When compared directly in cases of mismatched antigens, there was clearly less rejection in transplants involving cord blood stem cells than bone marrow stem cells (Moise, 2005).
Families should seriously pursue public banking, donation for research, or private banking instead of discarding their baby’s umbilical cord blood. We aim to be nonpartisan in our dissemination of information, but we believe that discarding your baby’s cord blood is a waste of a once-in-a-lifetime valuable resource.
So what are your options? You have three choices. One is to store the cord blood with a private company at a cost to you ranging from $1,500 to $2,500 and an annual storage fee in the ballpark of $125. Secondly, you can donate the cord blood to a public bank, if there is one working with your hospital, and your doctor is on board with the idea. There are also public banks that accept mail-in donations, if you register during your second trimester and your doctor is willing to take a short training class on-line. Zero cost to you. The third option is to do nothing and have the cord blood, umbilical cord, and placenta destroyed as medical waste.
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).
After harvesting, the umbilical cord blood is taken to a cord blood bank where it will be tested to make sure that it is clear of disease and other contaminants. Before being frozen, a cryopreservant is added to the cord blood so that the stem cells are able to be frozen without damaging them, after which they are stored in a liquid nitrogen Cord Blood storage tank at –196 Celsius.
Prior to transplanting any type of tissue, a “matching” process must occur to increase the success of the transplant and decrease the likelihood that the transplant will be rejected. The rejection of a transplanted tissue is called “graft versus host disease.” The matching process dates back to the late 1950s when the human leukocyte antigens were discovered. There are two classes of human leukocyte antigens. The first class is located on the surface of almost all of the cells with a nucleus within the body of the cell. The second class of human leukocyte antigens is located on the surface of immune cells. Each of the two classes of antigens has three subgroups, creating six antigens for which matching can occur. Thus, a “6 of 6” matching of the antigens represents a “perfect” match. Beyond the matching process, other factors contribute to the success or failure of a stem cell transplant. These factors include, but are not limited to, the age of both the donor and the patient, the type of disease being treated, and the number of stem cells being transplanted (Moise, 2005).
Lamaze International (2010) does not have a policy specific to umbilical cord blood banking; however, the organization has a specific policy that prohibits advertising of private cord blood banks in any Lamaze media vehicle. This policy was most recently updated and revised in July 2010. In addition, in their book, The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth With Confidence, Lothian and DeVries (2010) reinforce the AAP’s position that expectant families are vulnerable to the marketing strategies of private cord blood banks. The authors go on to say that expectant parents should know that banking umbilical cord blood does not guarantee a cure. Likewise, there is no guarantee that a private umbilical cord blood bank will be able to adequately preserve the cord blood until a time when it is needed. One potential reason for being unable to preserve the cord blood is that the private cord blood bank could go out of business.
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.
Tom Moore, CEO of Cord Blood Registry, the largest private cord blood banking firm, told ABC News conceded that there was no proof that the transplants worked, but added that there is strong anecdotal evidence.
“Processing” refers to separating the important components of the whole cord blood before cryopreservation. There are many methods used to process cord blood that can achieve the same goal: storing the important cells for potential future use. However, it’s important to point out some differences between methods:
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.
In 1988, a 5-year-old named Matthew with a rare type of anemia received umbilical cord blood cells from his newborn sister, who didn’t have the disease. That transfer, called an umbilical cord blood transplant, worked, and the boy was soon free of the disease.
Cord Blood Registry® (CBR®) is the world’s largest newborn stem cell company. Founded in 1992, CBR is entrusted by parents with storing samples from more than 600,000 children. CBR is dedicated to advancing the clinical application of cord blood and cord tissue stem cells by partnering with institutions to establish FDA-regulated clinical trials for conditions that have no cure today.
Cryo-Cell, Viacord, and Cord Blood Registry are three of the oldest and largest private cord blood banks in the United States. They’ve been storing cord blood since the early ’90s, and they’re all accredited by the AABB. Cryo-Cell is located in Oldsmar, Florida; Viacord in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Cord Blood Registry in San Bruno, California. Each of these banks has its own private labs that test for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis, cytomegalovirus, and human T-cell lymphotrophic virus (considered a precursor to leukemia); the testing is included in their registration fee.
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.
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.
StemCyte™ has extensive experience providing cord blood units for transplants in children and adults with life-threatening diseases. Other private cord blood banks may have provided family-related cord blood for transplants, but only StemCyte™’s cord blood units have been used to 2000 plus transplants to date.
The cord blood collection process is simple, safe, and painless. The process usually takes no longer than five minutes. Cord blood collection does not interfere with delivery and is possible with both vaginal and cesarean deliveries.
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.
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.
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.