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Cord blood transplants aren’t entirely new — they’ve been in use for about 20 years. In fact, the outcome of transplants has improved in the last 10 years, says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG, 2008) recommends giving pregnant women information about umbilical cord blood banking that is free from bias. According to ACOG, the chance of a child or family member needing a stem cell transplant is about 1 in 2,700. Therefore, ACOG recommends the collection and banking of cord blood only when an immediate family member has a known diagnosis for which stem cells are currently being used for treatment, and not for potential future uses.
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.
Initially, cord blood stem cell transplantation using allogeneic umbilical cord blood was performed in relatively small children, because the cell dose per weight of recipient was shown to be important.19,20 However, older children, adolescents, and adults have benefited from unrelated allogeneic umbilical cord blood transplantation.34,55–61 Because of the relationship between cell dose per recipient weight and transplant outcome, the number of cord blood cells needed for marrow reconstitution in older children or young adults is much larger than that needed when cord blood is used for transplantation in small children. Cord blood transplants using multiple cryopreserved units from separate donors have been performed successfully in adults, and the approach is currently under investigation as a strategy to increase the dose of cells for transplantation in a single recipient.62 Cord blood is collected in observance of good obstetric and pediatric practice.45
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CBR’s lab stores over 700,000 cord blood and cord tissue stem cell units. As a result of our size, we are able to continuously invest in clinical trials, product innovation, and our lab and storage facility. We own our state-of-the-art facility. And, we continually invest in quality and security. This means our families will always have access to their stem cells.
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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.
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.
Anyway, the excitement over the embryonic cells comes from their remarkable ability, as biological blank slates, to become virtually any of the body’s cell types. Many observers believe the president’s move will accelerate the hunt for cures for some of our most vexing diseases. However, the benefits are largely hypothetical, given the infancy of the field, and are offset by some real obstacles: The risks of embryonic stem cells, as well as cells programmed to become like them, including the possibility they will actually cause cancers in people who receive them. Nonetheless, here’s a look at 10 health problems that stem cells might someday cure or at least help treat.
The next step at either a public or family bank is to process the cord blood to separate the blood component holding stem cells. The final product has a volume of 25 milliliters and includes a cryoprotectant which prevents the cells from bursting when frozen. Typical cost, $250 to $300 per unit.
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.
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.
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.
It’s hard to ignore the ads for cord blood banks, offering a lifetime of protection for your children. If you’re an expectant mom, there’s information coming at you constantly from your doctor’s office, magazines, online, and perhaps even your yoga class.
Lifebank USA is another private bank, located in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey, that’s accredited by the AABB. What sets this bank apart from the others: it’s one of the few banks that store umbilical cord blood and placenta blood (this is done for free). Stem cells from placenta tissue can turn into skeletal tissue types such as bone, cartilage, fat tissue, and connective tissue, whereas cells from cord blood turn into different types of blood cells.
Wall DA, Carter SL, Kernan NA, et al. Busulfan/melphalan/antithymocyte globulin followed by unrelated donor cord blood transplantation for treatment of infant leukemia and leukemia in young children: the Cord Blood Transplantation study (COBLT) experience. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant.2005;11 :637– 646
Just like other blood donations, there is no cost to the donor of cord blood. If you do not choose to store your baby’s blood, please consider donating it. Your donation could make a difference in someone else’s life.
Anak S, Saribeyoglu ET, Bilgen H, et al. Allogeneic versus autologous versus peripheral stem cell transplantation in CR1 pediatric AML patients: a single center experience. Pediatr Blood Cancer.2005;44 :654– 659
Priority shipping: Cord blood companies that use priority shipping services have families ship them cord blood in a heavily insulated box, which arrives at the cord bank at a certain time, but does not guarantee that the blood remains at a certain temperature.
A cord blood industry report by Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation found that, among developed nations, cord blood banking cost is only 2% of the annual income of those households likely to bank.
According to the statement, “Families may be vulnerable to emotional marketing at the time of birth of a child and may look to their physicians for advice. No accurate estimates exist of the likelihood of children to need their own stored cells. The range of available estimates is from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000.” For this and other reasons, it is difficult to recommend that parents store their children’s cord blood for future use. The AAP policy states:
Ravindranath Y, Chang M, Steuber CP, et al. Pediatric Oncology Group (POG) studies of acute myeloid leukemia (AML): a review of four consecutive childhood AML trials conducted between 1981 and 2000. Leukemia.2005;19 :2101– 2116
Your child may never need it. Stem cell-rich cord blood can be used to treat a range of diseases, but Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, estimates that there’s only a 1 in 217 chance that your child will ever need a stem cell transplant with cord blood (or bone marrow). This is particularly true if the child doesn’t have a family history of diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, or sickle cell anemia. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (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.
As with all important decisions you make, the more educated you are, the better. After all, you only get one chance to bank your baby’s cord blood and you want to make sure that you choose a cord blood bank you can trust. Cord blood banking companies—especially private ones—vary widely in terms of quality, experience, and even the technology they use to collect, process, and store cord blood.
A person will always be a 100% match to his or her cord blood, which is the best fit as there are some conditions that can only be treated with one’s own cord blood stem cells (or a perfect match). However, other conditions can be treated using donor stem cells that are partial genetic matches.
Regenerative therapy is the practice of delivering cells and cell products to renew diseased or damaged tissues in a specific area. It is one of the fastest growing fields of medical research. Each year, new regenerative therapies using stem cells from cord blood and cord tissue enter into clinical trials for the treatment of chronic and life-threatening diseases. If proven successful, these clinical trials will lead to approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With FDA-approval, these treatments can then be administered as a general practice.
The Cord Blood Registry (CBR) is unique, because it is currently the world’s largest cord blood bank, with over a half-million cord blood and cord tissue units stored to date. This is substantially more than its nearest competitor, ViaCord, which has 350,000 units stored. It was recently acquired by pharmaceutical giant, AMAG Pharmaceuticals, for $700 million in June 2015.
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).
With public cord blood banks, there’s a greater chance that your cord blood will be put to use because it could be given to any child or adult in need, says William T. Shearer, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics and Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Cord blood is donated and is put on a national registry, to be made available for any transplant patient. So if your child should need the cord blood later in life, there’s no guarantee you would be able to get it back.
* Disclaimer: Banking cord blood does not guarantee that treatment will work and only a doctor can determine when it can be used. Cord tissue stem cells are not approved for use in treatment, but research is ongoing.
Cord blood has been shown to contain pluripotent stem cells that have the potential to differentiate into nonhematopoietic tissue, such as cardiac, neurologic, pancreatic, and skin tissue, in vitro.53,54 Extensive laboratory research is taking place to explore the potential therapeutic benefit of cord blood under these circumstances. The results of this research will be necessary to formulate future recommendations regarding autologous cord blood banking.