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There are so many things to think about when you have a child. One of them is the blood from your baby’s umbilical cord (which connects the baby to the mother while in the womb). It used to be thrown away at birth, but now, many parents store the blood for the future health of their child. Should you do it?
Some brochures advertising private cord blood banking show children with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder, who were treated with their own stem cells. In the case of Cord Blood Registry, the company lists all stem cell transplants conducted at Duke University. In a list of individuals treated in their “stem cell therapy data” cerebral palsy is listed. However, transplants were part of an early research study and studies of efficacy are just now underway.
7. Lung diseases. From human embryonic stem cells, researchers in Texas have created transplantable sources of lung cells in the lab. Those lung cells could potentially be used to repair damage brought on by a variety of pulmonary conditions or by lung trauma resulting from a car accident, bullet wound, or sports injury. Unpublished studies using such cells have shown promise for tissue repair in mice with acute lung injury, the group reports.
For much of pregnancy, the umbilical cord is the lifeline of a fetus, tethering it to the placenta. Snaking through the nearly 2-feet-long cord, there’s a vein ferrying nutrients and oxygen from mom’s blood (via the placenta), plus two arteries carrying oxygen- and nutrient-depleted blood from the fetus back to mom. Because mother’s blood and fetal blood don’t actually mix much, the blood in the placenta and umbilical cord at birth belongs mainly to the fetus.
Properly preserved cord blood is long-lasting. Cord blood is stored in a nitrogen freezer (the same technology used to freeze donated sperm), so it can last for a long time. “The scientist who first developed cord blood preservation methods in 1990 has confirmed that some of the first specimens he stored 23 plus years ago are just as potent as fresh cord blood,” says Mary Halet, Director, Central Region at Be The Match, which is operated by the National Bone Marrow Foundation.
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 evolution from pluripotent stem cells down to blood stem cells is currently poorly understood. The latest indication is that, under the right conditions, stem cells in cord blood can be teased to grow into other types of tissue besides blood. This would open up an entirely new realm of potential treatment through the use of stem cells.
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.
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.
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.
With umbilical cord blood harvesting, the harvested cord blood does not come from the newborn baby itself; instead, the cord blood is harvested from the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after birth. Umbilical cord blood is never harvested from either mother or child, but only from the unused blood in the umbilical cord, which would otherwise be discarded waste. The harvesting procedure takes only a few minutes and there is zero danger to either the parent or the baby.
§ 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.
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.
Options for Umbilical Cord Blood Banking and Donation—As expectant parents, learn how umbilical cord blood can help others through public donation, family (private) cord blood banking, or directed donation for a biological sibling.
“This is a medical service that has to be done when your baby’s cells arrive and you certainly want them to be handled by good equipment and good technicians,” 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. “It’s just not going to be cheap.” 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 reduce costs.
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
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.
Specializing in health and medicine, Sandra Gordon has written extensively about cord blood banking for national and regional parenting magazines. She also has written about baby products, including breast pumps, for national and regional parenting magazines, blogs and books. Her work has appeared in hundreds of publications, including Parents, Prevention, Woman’s Day and Self. Gordon also appears on TV as a baby safety and money-saving expert. She is also the author of 10 books and the founder of babyproductsmom.com, a site dedicated to helping new parents gear up safely and within their budget.
Donating your baby’s cord blood is a wonderful gift. The cells may be the perfect match for someone in desperate need of a stem cell transplant. Unfortunately, cord blood banking is still an extremely new industry; there are only a small handful of public banks in certain regions, and those banks are primarily focused on collecting cord blood stem cells from Hispanic and African American families due to the genetic diversity associated with those families. Please visit http://www.marrow.org/ for a list of public banks with their contact information. One other note: It is also a wonderful gift to be a bone marrow donor, and becoming one is much more available to the public, unlike cord blood banking. Please call your local blood bank or the American Red Cross for additional information on how to become a bone marrow donor.
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.
All cord blood banks in the US are required to register with Food and Drug Administration. To ensure safety, cord blood banks must comply with FDA regulations, including current good tissue practice regulations, donor screening and testing for infectious diseases, including HIV I & II (the virus that causes AIDS), Hepatitis B & C, which can cause liver disease, Cytomegalovirus (CMV) a virus that can lead to pneumonia, Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV) 1 & 2, which can suppress the immune system, West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, Treponema pallidum (the bacterium that can cause syphilis) and Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), a rare virus that can cause brain disease. Since 2011, the FDA has required public cord blood banks to obtain a license under a Biologics License Application.
The choices expectant parents make today go beyond finding out the gender of their baby. They span beyond deciding whether to find out if their child, still in the womb, may potentially have a genetic disorder. Today, many parents must decide whether to store their baby’s umbilical cord blood so it will be available to heal their child if at any point in the child’s lifetime he or she becomes sick.
Families with a history of diseases can store cord blood in a bank. These families can access it should a person get sick with an immune system or blood disease, like leukemia or sickle-cell anemia, later in life.
LifebankUSA is the only cord blood banking company to have pioneered the advanced technology to collect additional placental stem cells for today’s treatments, and unique placental stem cells for future medical advancements. We discovered unique stem cells that remained trapped in the blood vessels of the placenta, so we created an innovative retrieval method to collect those cells.
Cord blood donation should be encouraged when the cord blood is stored in a bank for public use. Parents should recognize that genetic (eg, chromosomal abnormalities) and infectious disease testing is performed on the cord blood and that if abnormalities are identified, they will be notified. Parents should also be informed that the cord blood banked in a public program may not be accessible for future private use.
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.
Cord Blood Registry is a cord blood storage company that collects, processes and stores stem cells to help families with medical needs later in life. Founded in 1992, it is the world’s largest newborn stem cell company.
Today, many conditions may be treatable with cord blood as part of a stem cell transplant, including various cancers and blood, immune, and metabolic disorders. Preserving these cells now may provide your family potential treatment options in the future.
Some financial aid is available for families that opt for private cord blood banking. If you have a sick child who could benefit from umbilical cord blood, some cord blood banks offer programs in which the bank will cover free cord blood processing and storage if the baby has a biological sibling with certain diseases. Certain insurance companies may pitch in if that sibling needs to be treated with the cord blood in the near future, Dr. Verter says.