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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.
Takahashi S, Iseki T, Ooi J, et al. Single-institute comparative analysis of unrelated bone marrow transplantation and cord blood transplantation for adult patients with hematologic malignancies. Blood.2004;104 :3813– 3820
Families that are predisposed to certain diseases, that are ethnically mixed, that are adopting a newborn child, or that have a family member who may need a stem cell transplant should take special care to understand the value the cells may provide and their storage options.
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.
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.
The process for umbilical cord blood harvesting is straightforward: An obstetrician or doctor harvests the umbilical cord blood at the time of the baby’s birth. Timing is very important, as the umbilical cord blood must be harvested quickly so that the cells remain fresh. The harvested umbilical cord blood should preferably be at least 75 mL to make sure that there is enough cord blood and stem cells to be transplanted at a later stage.
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).
The potential powers of these cells have researchers excited. But what that scientific hope means for expectant parents facing decisions about cord blood banking is far from clear. For all of the promise, there are lots of reasons why umbilical cord cells may turn out to be less useful than thought. Read my next post for more about these potential drawbacks.
Parents have the option to privately store their newborn’s cord blood stem cells. There are now over a dozen private cord blood banks, and more open every year. Some have their own labs, while others contract with a lab. Cord blood stem cell banking is not a regulated industry; there are no certifications or licensing requirements to open a cord blood bank. Several banks are accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks. Please keep in mind there is a big difference between being accredited by the AABB and being a member of the AABB. To be accredited, the lab must follow strict standards and be inspected by the association.
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 units are made available for research studies intended to improve patient outcomes, as stated in the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005, Public Law 109-129, and the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act of 2010, Public Law 111-264.
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Private (commercial) cord banks will store the donated blood for use by the donor and family members only. They can be expensive. These banks charge a fee for processing and an annual fee for storage.
Most stored cord blood is discarded. At public cord blood banks, a unit of stored cord blood has a greater chance of being used to help a sick child or used toward stem cell research. Private cord blood banks, on the other hand, eventually throw away blood that a family no longer wants to store or use.
Description: CBR is one of the largest Cord Blood & Tissue banking companies in the world. Having banked over 400,000 families cord blood and tissue, CBR is well known and highly trusted in the industry.
Cord blood banking takes blood from the umbilical cord at the time of birth, and donates it to a public blood bank, or stores it in a private one. Since this blood is so rich in stem cells, which have the potential to become any human cell, it could someday be used as a treatment for the child or their family members.
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.
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.
Another important disadvantage that is not well understood by the general public is the limited use of an infant’s own umbilical cord blood stem cells later in life, called an autologous transplant. Commercial cord blood banks often advertise the banking of the infant’s cord blood as “biologic insurance.” However, the chance that a child would be able to use his or her own cord blood is extremely small: from a 1:400 to a 1:200,000 chance over the child’s lifetime (Sullivan, 2008). In fact, there are certain instances in which the use of one’s own umbilical cord blood is contraindicated, as in cases when the defect is of a genetic origin. For example, autologous cord blood stem cells cannot be used to treat malignant cancers such as leukemia because the genetic mutations for the cancer already exist on the DNA of the cord blood. Using one’s own stem cells would be, in effect, “contaminating” oneself with the same disease process (Percer, 2009).
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.
Cord blood specimens for non-clinical scientific research studies are also available through the Cord Blood Transplantation (COBLT) Study, funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
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.
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).
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.
Your baby’s cord blood could be a valuable resource for another family. From foundations to non-profit blood banks and medical facilities, there are numerous locations that will collect, process, and use the stem cells from your baby’s cord blood to treat other people.
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.
1. Spinal cord injury. In January, the Food and Drug Administration OK’d its first-ever human study of a medical treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells. The objective: help people with acute spinal cord injuries. While expected to assess only the safety of the treatment, the study also might show if the paralyzed volunteers can regain some feeling in and control over their lower extremities.