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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.
Over 95% of newborns’ cord blood stem cells fall into this category. It is unfortunate that public banking is not readably available and private banking is so expensive. Some industry leaders believe that as the industry grows, banking or donating cord blood will be as common as it is uncommon today.
The main purpose of a cord blood company is to store umbilical cord blood for families in case they need to access it for future use. Cord blood from a baby is stored because it has the potential to help treat blood or immune system diseases. There are both private and public cord blood companies, sometimes referred to as cord blood banks.
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.
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.
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.
Parents often complain about cord blood banking costs. This is not an industry where costs can be cut by running a turn-key operation. Each cord blood unit must be individually tested and processed by trained technicians working in a medical laboratory.
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.
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After the baby is delivered, according to the procedures of cord blood banking, the umbilical cord is initially clamped and then cut out in the natural and usual manner. Here, the procedure for clamping and cutting remains the same for vaginal deliveries and c-section deliveries. However, while convening the procedure, make sure to get it done under the supervision of a competent and efficient professional.
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Cade Hildreth is the Founder of BioInformant.com, the world’s largest publisher of stem cell industry news. Cade is a media expert on stem cells, recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Business Journal, Xconomy, and Vogue Magazine.
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.
Insurance assisted payments: Some cord blood companies work with insurance companies that can help parents pay for cord blood processing and storage, particularly if one child in the family has an illness and might be able to benefit from cord blood use.
Make no mistake, cord banks are businesses to the core. And just like any other business, there’s always the possibility of a cord bank failing. Which is why we suggest begining your search by checking the company’s experience, the number cord blood units stored, and how many of these cord blood units have been used for transplants.
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).
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.
3. Families should consider is whether the odds given for the “average baby” apply to them. Some families do have a higher predisposition to cancer and immune disorders and would be far more likely to benefit from cord blood banking than the statistics indicate.
Cord blood, which is harvested from the umbilical cord right after a baby is born, is marketed as a treatment for diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell disease, and as a potential source of cells for regenerative medicine – a cutting-edge field of medicine studying how to repair tissues damaged by everything from heart disease to cerebral palsy.
A number of private for-profit companies have been established that encourage parents to bank their children’s cord blood for their own autologous use or for directed donor allogeneic use for a family member should the need arise. Parents have been encouraged to bank their infants’ cord blood as a form of “biological insurance.” Physicians, employees, and/or consultants of such companies may have potential conflicts of interest in recruiting patients because of their own financial gain. Annual disclosure of the financial interest and potential conflicts of interest must be made to institutional review boards that are charged with the responsibility of mitigation of these disclosures and risks. Families may be vulnerable to the emotional effects of marketing for cord blood banking 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 cord blood stem cells in the future. The range of available estimates is from 1 in 1000 to more than 1 in 200000.51 The potential for children needing their own cord blood stem cells for future autologous use is controversial presently.51 There also is no evidence of the safety or effectiveness of autologous cord blood stem cell transplantation for the treatment of malignant neoplasms.51 Indeed, there is evidence demonstrating the presence of DNA mutations in cord blood obtained from children who subsequently develop leukemia.52 Thus, an autologous cord blood transplantation might even be contraindicated in the treatment of a child who develops leukemia.
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.
Shai was a feisty little girl whose mother used her scientific background to search for the best approach to cure her cancer. Shai narrowly escaped death many times, including a recovery that even her doctors considered a miracle, yet she died at dawn on the day that she would have begun kindergarten. Her mother went on to found this website and charity in her memory. Read more…
To save money, public banks will not even process a cord blood donation unless they know in advance that they are going to keep it. When the collection first arrives at the lab, it is passed through a cell counting machine. Only collections that have at least 900 million nucleated cells are kept. As a result, over 60%-80% of cord blood donations are discarded. The public bank must absorb the expense of the collection kit and delivery charges for discarded blood; typically $100 per unit.
There are three types of umbilical cord blood banks: private, public, and direct-donation banks. The private bank is a commercial, for-profit entity that often advertises directly to expectant parents. These banks are designed for the sole use of the families who have saved the cord blood. Private banks charge an initial fee for collection and processing and, then, a yearly fee to maintain the specimen. Another fee is often charged when a sample is removed for testing or treatment (Moise, 2005).
Ballen KK, Kurtzberg J, Lane TA, et al. Racial diversity with high nucleated cell counts and CD34 counts achieved in a national network of cord blood banks. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant.2004;10 :269– 275
Given the difficulty in estimating the need for using one’s own cord blood cells for transplantation, private storage of cord blood as “biological insurance” is unwise. However, banking should be considered if there is a family member with a current or potential need to undergo a stem cell transplantation.
Let’s look back at the expectant couple in my childbirth class who asked about banking their infant’s umbilical cord blood. They should not base their decision to bank the umbilical cord blood on the type of anticoagulant used to preserve the sample; likewise, they should not obtain all of their information on cord blood banking from the private cord blood bank, whose major agenda is to gain another client. Instead, they must be encouraged to research various resources for reliable information (see Table 4). If they have evidence that stem cells are used currently to treat a specific disease process that is affecting a family member, and is not simply a proposed idea, then it might be in their best interest to privately bank the umbilical cord blood. However, they should be aware that simply banking the cord blood does not ensure a cure, and they would most likely be banking the blood not for the current baby, but for some other family member. They must also be aware of the cost involved in the banking process. Finally, if they do not have a relative with a disease process treated with stem cells or there is no evidence that stem cells are used to treat the diseases that are known to be in their family, then they should consider public banking of the umbilical cord blood (if they have access to a public cord blood bank).