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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.
For families that choose to bank cord blood, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends public cord blood banking. Estimates vary, but the chances of a child having a stem cell transplant, with either bone marrow or cord blood, are 1 in 217 over a lifetime. Although the 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 decide on cord blood banking, the AAP recommends public cord blood banking (instead of private) to cut down on costs. If you donate cord blood and your child eventually needs it, you can get it back as long as it hasn’t been discarded or used.
An alternative to a related donor involves seeking unrelated HLA-matched adult allogeneic donors outside of the family.2,6,11 There are more than 7 million potential unrelated volunteer adult donors registered in the National Marrow Donor Program registry.17 Although the number of patients who receive unrelated adult allogeneic donor stem cell transplants continues to increase each year, many patients are unable to find a fully matched donor, which diminishes access to transplantation therapy. Nonwhite patients have a lower chance of identifying a fully matched unrelated adult donor because of genetic heterogeneity and lack of nonwhite donors. Over the past decade, unrelated-donor, banked umbilical cord blood has been shown to contain sufficient numbers of stem cells for successful transplantation between unrelated, partially HLA-mismatched individuals.19–23 With advances in the clinical practice of cord blood transplantation, most patients unable to find a fully matched adult donor can identify a partially matched cord blood donor.
Please tell us a little about yourself. A Newborn Stem Cell Educator may call to discuss your options and answer any questions you may have. You may also receive additional information about saving or donating newborn stem cells.
To begin a discussion of umbilical cord blood banking, it must first be understood that the component from the blood that is salvaged is the stem cells. Stem cells are unspecialized cells that are the basis of all tissue and organ cells of the body. There are three main sources of stem cells in humans: embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, and umbilical cord stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are generally used in research but not in clinical practice. Adult stem cells are found in various locations in the human body, but they are most commonly found in bone marrow (McGuckin & Forraz, 2008). Over the years, transplants of bone marrow stem cells have been used clinically to treat disease processes in which stem cells are beneficial. Umbilical cord blood stem cells were historically considered a waste product of the birthing process but are now known to have up to 10 times more stem cells than adult bone marrow (Gunning, 2007).
Both public and family cord blood banks must register with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and since Oct. 2011 public banks also need to apply for an FDA license. All cord blood banks are required by federal law to test the blood of the mother for infectious diseases. At public banks the screening is usually more extensive, similar to the tests performed when you donate blood. The typical expense to a public bank is $150 per unit.
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.
When all the processing and testing is complete, the cord blood stem cells are frozen in cryogenic nitrogen freezers at -196° C until they are requested for patient therapy. Public banks are required to complete the entire laboratory processing and freeze the cord blood stem cells within 48 hours of collection. This is to insure the highest level of stem cell viability. The accreditation agencies allow family banks a window of 72 hours.
Harvesting and banking cord blood is a fairly simple procedure that can be performed during vaginal or cesarian deliveries without interrupting the birth process. The doctor or nurse will collect the cord blood after the umbilical cord has been clamped. The collection of cord blood is not painful, intrusive or risky to the mother or baby.
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.
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.
Frances Verter, PhD, founded the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood in 1998 and has been a Scientific Advisor to Community Blood Services since 2007. In 2011 the NMDP presented her with their Lifeline Award in recognition of her efforts to improve public education about cord blood donation.
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.
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.
These are diseases for which transplants of blood-forming stem cells (Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplants, HSCT) are a standard treatment. For some diseases they are the only therapy, and in other diseases they are only employed when front-line therapies have failed or the disease is very aggressive. The lists below include ALL therapies that use blood-forming stem cells, without distinction as to whether the stem cells were extracted from bone marrow, peripheral blood, or cord blood.
In recent years, umbilical cord blood, which contains a rich source of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells, has been used successfully as an alternative allogeneic donor source to treat a variety of pediatric genetic, hematologic, immunologic, and oncologic disorders. Because there is diminished risk of graft-versus-host disease after transplantation of cord stem cells using matched related donors, the use of less-than-completely matched HLA cord blood stem cells may incur less risk of graft-versus-host disease than mismatched cells from either a related or unrelated “walking” donor, although this remains to be proven. Gene-therapy research involving modification of autologous cord blood stem cells for the treatment of childhood genetic disorders, although experimental at the present time, may prove to be of value. These scientific advances have resulted in the establishment of not-for-profit and for-profit cord blood–banking programs for allogeneic and autologous cord blood transplantation. Many issues confront institutions that wish to establish or participate in such programs. Parents often seek information from their physicians about this new biotechnology option. This document is intended to provide information to guide physicians in responding to parents’ questions about cord blood donation and banking and the types and quality of cord blood banks. Provided also are recommendations about appropriate ethical and operational standards, including informed consent policies, financial disclosures, and conflict-of-interest policies for physicians, institutions, and organizations that operate or have a relationship with cord blood–banking programs.
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
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) takes the issue of privacy very seriously. See our Privacy Statement for information about how AAP collects, uses, safeguards and discloses the information collected on our Website from visitors and by means of technology.
ViaCord’s Sibling Connection Program, a dedicated transplant program for siblings, was designed to help families in need of a stem cell transplant. This program provides ViaCord’s cord blood banking services at no cost to expecting parents. A family with a child with an established diagnosis of a disease that is currently treatable with sibling cord blood may be eligible.
Cord blood therapies have gotten more successful, and they also hold the promise of future innovative medical procedures for conditions like cerebral palsy and autism. Currently, cord blood can be used to treat diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and certain cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. It’s an even more valuable resource for ethnic minorities, who statistically have a harder time finding stem cell matches in the registry of adult bone marrow donors.
Our secure facility is strengthened by bullet resistant glass, a floor load capacity that can hold 800,000 pounds (16x the standard requirements), a liquid nitrogen tank the size of a 747 jet, one of the largest back-up generators available, and temperature monitoring every 1.6 seconds.
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.
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.
Cord tissue contains a special type of stem cell that has the potential to treat injuries and diseases affecting cartilage, muscle, and nerve cells.19 Since 2007 there have been about 150 clinical trials that have used cord tissue stem cells in human patients.
Lifebank USA is another private bank, located in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey, that’s accredited by the AABB. What sets this bank apart from the others: it’s one of the few banks that store umbilical cord blood and placenta blood (this is done for free). Stem cells from placenta tissue can turn into skeletal tissue types such as bone, cartilage, fat tissue, and connective tissue, whereas cells from cord blood turn into different types of blood cells.
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:
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.
Cord blood transplants aren’t entirely new — they’ve been in use for about 20 years. In fact, the outcome of transplants has improved in the last 10 years, says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
Lewis ID, Almeida-Porada G, Du J, et al. Umbilical cord blood cells capable of engrafting in primary, secondary, and tertiary xenogeneic hosts are preserved after ex vivo culture in a noncontact system. Blood.2001;97 :3441– 3449
One of the first things I learned is that the couples in my childbirth class were not unique. In fact, research indicates that most pregnant women are underinformed about the issue of cord blood banking (Fox et al., 2007). While reviewing the literature on cord blood banking, I also found that the information available for nurses and childbirth educators often comes from private cord blood banks or their employees (Cord Blood Registry, 2009; Wolf, 1998, 1999), thus introducing the chance of bias.
The use of cord blood is determined by the treating physician and is influenced by many factors, including the patient’s medical condition, the characteristics of the sample, and whether the cord blood should come from the patient or an appropriately matched donor. Cord blood has established uses in transplant medicine; however, its use in regenerative medicine is still being researched. There is no guarantee that treatments being studied in the laboratory, clinical trials, or other experimental treatments will be available in the future.
Lamaze International (2010) does not have a policy specific to umbilical cord blood banking; however, the organization has a specific policy that prohibits advertising of private cord blood banks in any Lamaze media vehicle. This policy was most recently updated and revised in July 2010. In addition, in their book, The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth With Confidence, Lothian and DeVries (2010) reinforce the AAP’s position that expectant families are vulnerable to the marketing strategies of private cord blood banks. The authors go on to say that expectant parents should know that banking umbilical cord blood does not guarantee a cure. Likewise, there is no guarantee that a private umbilical cord blood bank will be able to adequately preserve the cord blood until a time when it is needed. One potential reason for being unable to preserve the cord blood is that the private cord blood bank could go out of business.
Publicly banking your baby’s cord blood is a wonderful gift. Unfortunately, however, your chance of donating your baby’s cord blood is very low due to the regional and financial constraints of public cord blood banks. It is estimated that cord blood from less than 3% of all U.S. births can be collected and stored by the public banks. We support any efforts to increase the resources available for public banking.
Stay up on the latest stem cell developments with our stem cell news blog. Read about the newest trials that are underway, how current trials are faring and new ways that cord blood and tissue stem cells are being used in regenerative therapies. For doctors and researches, the Stem Cell Insider provides a more detailed look at the latest stem cell news and showcases the latest advancements in our products to help ensure stem cells preserved with us are viable and pure.
Medical shipping: Some cord blood companies use medical shipping companies to deliver cord blood; these companies guarantee that cord blood is kept a certain temperature and delivered to the facility by a certain time, typically within 24 hours of collection.
After harvesting, the umbilical cord blood is taken to a cord blood bank where it will be tested to make sure that it is clear of disease and other contaminants. Before being frozen, a cryopreservant is added to the cord blood so that the stem cells are able to be frozen without damaging them, after which they are stored in a liquid nitrogen Cord Blood storage tank at –196 Celsius.
In a number of genetic, hematologic, immunologic, metabolic, and oncologic disorders, reconstitution of bone marrow (transplantation) can be a potentially life-saving procedure.1–16 Allogeneic (related or unrelated) or autologous (self) bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells are the usual sources of hematopoietic progenitor cells to achieve this goal. If autologous stem cells are not available or cannot be used, the best option for successful reconstitution therapy is to secure stem cells from an HLA-matched sibling.1,3,11 Close matching confers a higher probability of successful engraftment and minimizes the risk of potentially fatal graft-versus-host disease. Unfortunately, there is only a 25% chance for identifying a full HLA match in a sibling donor.17,18
With President Obama’s lifting of the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, scientists had necessary funding for developing medical treatments, in which case with a new Trump’s administration it might be different now.
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.
If you do decide to bank your baby’s cord blood, there’s one more thing to keep in mind: It’s best not to make it a last-minute decision. You should coordinate with the bank before your baby is born so nothing is left to chance.
Anak S, Saribeyoglu ET, Bilgen H, et al. Allogeneic versus autologous versus peripheral stem cell transplantation in CR1 pediatric AML patients: a single center experience. Pediatr Blood Cancer.2005;44 :654– 659
Targeted efforts should be made to recruit underserved minorities (black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native individuals) in public cord blood–banking programs to extend to them potential treatments afforded other segments of society.
* Disclaimer: Banking cord blood does not guarantee that treatment will work and only a doctor can determine when it can be used. Cord tissue stem cells are not approved for use in treatment, but research is ongoing.
Because of their ability to regenerate, umbilical cord stem cells may provide the answers to conditions such as various forms of heart disease and diabetes. Medical researchers studying umbilical cord blood stem cells have recorded several positive observations in animal studies, including instances where cord blood stem cells have improved vascular functions in injured tissue, as well as blood flow and improved overall heart function.
Additional ethical concerns about umbilical cord blood banking involve the timing of clamping the umbilical cord after birth. Overall, the issue of when to clamp and cut the umbilical cord is controversial. There is no consensus on how early or how late in the birthing process the umbilical cord ought to be clamped and cut, although the cord obviously still provides nourishment and removes waste until it is clamped or spontaneously stops pulsing (Lothian & DeVries, 2010). However, some practitioners might clamp the umbilical cord early in an effort to maximize the amount of cord blood obtained for banking, and thus “short change” the child and allow the infant to become anemic (Drew, 2005).
All cord blood is screened and tested. Whether you use a public or private bank, you’ll still need to be tested for various infections (such as hepatitis and HIV). If tests come back positive for disease or infection, you will not be able to store your cord blood.
8. Arthritis. Also called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis—the most common form of arthritis—results when protective cartilage in joints wastes away. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. Stem cells could change that. Scientists are examining how best to use them to rebuild lost cartilage and repair shot joints.