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Many private banking proponents think that by storing your baby’s cord blood stem cells, you are positioning your family with a form of biological insurance in the event that your child or a close family member has a treatable disease.
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).
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.
Research on stem cell transplants began in the 1950s, with successful bone marrow transplants occurring in the 1970s, often to treat cancer patients whose own bone marrow was destroyed by chemotherapy and radiation. The first successful umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant was reported as occurring in the late 1980s. The recipient was a 6-year-old American boy from North Carolina who was treated for Fanconi’s anemia (a genetic disorder) at Hospital St. Louis in Paris, France, using cord blood obtained from his younger sister’s birth. Interestingly, more than 20 years after the transplant, this young man is alive and well. Not only did he survive long term, but both his immune system and his blood were transformed by the transplant of his sister’s cord blood stem cells. Soon after this first documented cord blood stem cell transplant, the first public umbilical cord blood bank was established in 1991 in New York (McGuckin & Forraz, 2008).
2. Diabetes. For the many Americans with type 1 diabetes, whose insulin-making pancreatic cells have been killed off by their immune system, stem cells may be the answer. Last year, scientists reported that they had coaxed human embryonic stem cells into becoming insulin-producing, blood sugar-regulating cells in diabetic mice. The aim: to someday do the same for people.
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.
§ CBR Systems, Inc.’s activities for New York State residents are limited to collection of umbilical cord tissue and long-term storage of umbilical cord-derived stem cells. CBR Systems, Inc.’s possession of a New York State license for such collection and long-term storage does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of these cells.
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.
Private cord blood banking is recommended for families with a history of certain diseases. Specifically, these are families with diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and certain cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. Why? The type of stem cells in cord blood can form all kinds of blood cells that can help treat these diseases.
As a trusted resource for families, CBR offers Genetic Counselors on staff to help families make informed choices about newborn stem cell banking. Our team of certified professionals are available to:
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.
Accurate information about the potential benefits and limitations of allogeneic and autologous cord blood banking and transplantation should be provided. Parents should be informed that autologous cord blood would not be used as a stem cell source if the donor developed leukemia later in life. Parents should recognize that there are no scientific data to support the claim that autologous cord blood is a tissue source proven to be of value for regenerative medical purposes. The current standard uses of cord blood transplantation are listed in Table 1.
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.
Extracting stem cells from bone marrow requires surgery under anesthesia; extracting them from the blood requires taking a drug to stimulate their production. And in order to work, these stem cell donations need to come from a person who carries a similar pattern of proteins on the outsides of his or her cells, a molecular calling card known as HLA type. Stem cells found in cord blood don’t need to be as closely matched to work. Because these cells are so flexible, there’s more wiggle room between donor and recipient. That’s particularly good news for people of certain ethnic minorities who often have trouble finding matched stem cell transplant donors.
Thornley I., Eapen M., Sung L., Lee S., Davies S., & Joffe S. (2009). Private cord blood banking: Experiences and views of pediatric hematopoietic cell transplantation physicians. Pediatrics, 123(3), 1011–1017 [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Are public banks and family banks the same, except for who may use the cord blood and the cost to the parents? No. Public banks are subject to much higher regulatory requirements, and compliance with regulations carries costs. At a family bank you pay the bank enough to cover the cost of storing your baby’s cord blood, plus they make a profit. When you donate to a public bank, it costs you nothing, but the bank pays more on processing each blood collection than at a family bank. Let’s look at the steps that take place in the laboratory.
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):
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 American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics don’t recommend routine cord blood storage. The groups say private banks should only be used when there’s a sibling with a medical condition who could benefit from the stem cells. Families are encouraged to donate stem cells to a public bank to help others.
Tracey said she felt lucky since she banked Anthony’s cord blood with a private company. And Osteopetrosis is one of 80 diseases listed by many cord blood companies in their marketing material as treatable with stem cells.