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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.
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).
Four main types of physical conditions are treated with stem cell transplants: cancers, blood disorders, congenital metabolic disorders, and immunodeficiencies (see Table 1). Examples of cancers that are treated with stem cells are both lymphoma and leukemia. Nonmalignant hemologic disorders also account for a fair share of the recipients of stem cells. Examples of these blood disorders are various types of anemias, such as sickle-cell anemia and Fanconi’s anemia (the first disorder treated with umbilical cord blood stem cells). Stem cells have also been used to treat various metabolic disorders, such as adrenoleukodystrophy. The fourth major category of uses for stem cells is in treating immunodeficiencies, such as Duncan’s disease or adenosine deaminase deficiency (Drew, 2005; Moise, 2005).
RENECE WALLER-WISE is a licensed clinical nurse specialist and childbirth educator at Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan, Alabama. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Troy University in Troy, Alabama.
Current trials show promise for cord blood in the treatment of strokes, heart disease, diabetes and more. Umbilical cord–derived stem cells, meanwhile, are undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, sports-related injuries and various neurodegenerative diseases including ALS (known also as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and Alzheimer’s.
I had some information about the very basics of umbilical cord blood banking, but I did not have the answers to most of the second couple’s questions. The first couple had some of the answers, but based on the limited knowledge I had, I felt that the information that the first couple shared was simply the information that the cord blood bank had supplied. I suspected that the cord blood bank had only shared information that was in its best interest to gain another customer. Therefore, my suspicions put me on a path to learn more about umbilical cord blood and, thus, cord blood banking and cord blood transplants.
Refer-a-friend program: The New England Cord Blood Bank gives families $100 for each friend they refer to the company, so customers have further incentive to choose the company for storage and processing.
Although cord blood is currently considered discarded human material, it should only be collected for banking with an institutional review board–approved protocol and with signed informed consent from a parent.42,43 Pertinent donor information communicated to the cord blood bank should be kept confidential by the cord blood bank and used only to report important medical information obtained during the cord blood collection, processing, and screening process that is relevant to the safety of the donor and family. If cord blood was collected from a newborn who subsequently developed a genetic, immunologic, or malignant neoplastic disorder, parents should notify the cord blood bank so that the unit is not used for transplantation. All cord blood units banked for potential use should be tested for infectious diseases, similar to those tested in a blood bank, and for hereditary hematologic diseases. The informed consent must contain information pertaining to what tests are to be performed on the cord blood and how the parents will be informed if test results are abnormal. Pediatricians should be aware that legal cases relating to the duty of a physician to warn parents about the risks of inheriting a genetic disease are new and untested. Pediatricians should remain vigilant, because future cases may define who has a legal duty to notify parents about genetic abnormalities identified during cord blood testing. Informed consent should be obtained before the onset of active labor and before cord blood collection.
Private banking is an alternative option if you can afford the associated costs and if the family’s history suggests a higher probability of need. Families that are predisposed to certain diseases, that are ethnically mixed, or that include a family member who may need a stem cell transplant should take special care to understand the value the cells may provide.
Barker JN, Davies SM, DeFor T, Ramsay NK, Weisdorf DJ, Wagner JE. Survival after transplantation of unrelated donor umbilical cord blood is comparable to that of human leukocyte antigen-matched unrelated donor bone marrow: results of a matched-pair analysis. Blood.2001;97 :2957– 2961
Despite the benefits of using umbilical cord blood stem cells for transplant, the process also has some disadvantages (see Table 3). For stem cell transplants to be successful, measurable signs of engraftment must occur. Engraftment is the opposite of rejection and indicates that the stem cell transplant is “working.” Two measurable signs of engraftment are the recovery of both neutrophil (a type of white blood cell) and platelet (a clotting factor) production. These two clinical signs of recovery take longer to occur in umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants than in bone marrow stem cell transplants. In other words, the lab values for white blood cell production and platelet production take longer to increase after umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants than after bone marrow stem cell transplants (Hess, 1997; Moise, 2005).
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.
When researching cord blood banks, make sure they’re registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and comply with FDA regulations including current good tissue practice regulations, donor screening and testing for infectious diseases. Check for accreditations with American Association of Blood Banks or the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy. Other factors to consider are the bank’s shipping and delivery methods, clinical experience, processing options, payments and costs.
Osteopetrosis is a genetic disease, so this means that doctors could use a sibling’s cord blood cells to treat Anthony, but they cannot use his own cells because the disease is in every cell in his body. In fact, a majority of the diseases listed in private banking firms’ marketing material as treatable with stem cells are genetic diseases.
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.
Eapen M, Horowitz MM, Klein JP, et al. Higher mortality after allogeneic peripheral-blood transplantation compared with bone marrow in children and adolescents: the Histocompatibility and Alternate Stem Cell Source Working Committee of the International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry. J Clin Oncol.2004;22 :4872– 4780
Since 1988, cord blood transplants have been used to treat over 80 diseases in hospitals around the world. Inherited blood disorders such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia can be cured by cord blood transplant. Over the past decade, clinical trials have been developing cord blood therapies for conditions that affect brain development in early childhood, such as cerebral palsy and autism.
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.
For transplants, the primary advantage of cord blood stem cells over stem cells from adults is that they cause much less graft versus host disease (GvHD). In order to safely transplant adult stem cells, the patient and donor must match over at least 10 of 12 tissue types called Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA), or 83% HLA match. By comparison, medical outcomes are just as good with cord blood that has a 4 out of 6 or 67% HLA match.
1. As today’s children grow up and some of them develop cancer as adults, autologous (self) cord blood transplants will become more commonly used. Pediatric cancers and adult cancers are completely different diseases at the cellular level (to learn more about cancer visit the website of the National Cancer Institute). While pediatric cancer patients rarely receive autologous transplants, among adult cancer patients the autologous transplants are more common than transplants from donors.
Prior to the cord blood being harvested you will need to complete a health history questionnaire, and provide a blood sample to check for disease. In most situations, you will also be required to sign a consent form to confirm your intention to have the cord blood harvested.
Bunin N, Aplenc R, Iannone R, et al. Unrelated donor bone marrow transplantation for children with severe aplastic anemia: minimal GVHD and durable engraftment with partial T cell depletion. Bone Marrow Transplant.2005;35 :369– 373
Cord blood banks will use some sort of processing method, and the above stats are metrics that we look at for processing efficiency. CBR proactively decided on AXP with dry heparin because we believe that utilizing this combination yields the best sample for our clients
Karanes C, Confer D, Walker T, Askren A, Keller C. Unrelated donor stem cell transplantation: the role of the National Marrow Donor Program. Oncology (Williston Park).2003;17 :1036– 1068, 1043–104, 1164–1167
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.
If you intend donating umbilical cord blood for preservation and later use, you should let your doctor know by your 34th week so that they can help make any arrangements with a cord blood bank. Once you and your doctor have decided on which cord blood bank to use, you will often be sent informational reading materials from the cord blood bank for further education regarding the process of cord blood harvesting.