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A few years ago, cord blood was simply discarded as medical waste after a birth. However, in the past few years, doctors have recognized that the stem cells have unique qualities which can be used in the treatment of certain cancers. The most common medical use is for transplantation in many situations where bone marrow is considered. In the future, it is possible that scientists will discover more diseases that can be cured with cord blood.
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).
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.
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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.
Therapies with cord blood have gotten more successful. “The outcomes of cord blood transplants have improved over the past 10 years because researchers and clinicians have learned more about dosing cord blood, picking better matches, and giving the patient better supportive care as they go through the transplant,” says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
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Dennis Michael Todd, PhD, joined Community Blood Services as its President and CEO in 2000. Community Blood Services operates the NJ Cord Blood Bank and The HLA Registry bone marrow donor center, both of which are affiliated with the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). In 2012, the blood center expects to distribute over 85,000 units of red cells and 20,000 platelets to hospitals and medical centers throughout northern NJ and Orange County, NY. Dr. Todd is presently a member of the NMDP Executive Committee and Chairman of the Finance Committee. He is a member of the International Society for Cellular Therapy (ISCT), the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), the AABB, the American Association of Bioanalysts, and the New Jersey Society of Blood Bank Professionals.
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.
Another advantage of using umbilical cord blood stem cells is the decreased risk of the transmission of infectious disease. This particular advantage is partly because umbilical cord blood is almost never contaminated by Epstein-Barr virus or cytomegalovirus (Drew, 2005; Gonzalez-Ryan et al., 2000). Additionally, the processing of cord blood includes collecting data on the history of infection during the mother’s pregnancy. For example, if the pregnant woman has a history of group B streptococcus, active genital herpes, or prolonged rupture of membranes and chorioamnionitis, umbilical cord blood is not saved. Generally, samples of the mother’s blood are also drawn to test for infectious diseases, such as hepatitis, human immunodeficiency virus, and syphilis (Moise, 2005). Furthermore, after the cord blood units are collected, they are screened for disease, and any units that are deemed contaminated or infected are thrown away (Gunning, 2007).
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.
Stem cells in the umbilical cord blood were first discovered in 1978. The stem cells found in cord blood give rise to all the other blood cells and are the foundation of our bodies’ immune system. More recently, scientists discovered a rich supply of a different type of stem cell in the cord tissue. These stem cells give rise to the tissues that comprise our nervous system, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, skin, bone, cartilage and more.
Regulatory agencies (eg, FDA, Federal Trade Commission, and state equivalents of these federal agencies) are encouraged to have an active role in providing oversight of the cord blood program. All cord blood–banking programs should comply with FACT or equivalent accreditation standards.
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.
Family Cord, located in Los Angeles, has a high-quality lab, a top rating from the Better Business Bureau, and accreditation from AABB; it’s also been in business since 1997. Family Cord is one of the few banks that will also cover the cost of cord blood banking for the first year (there’s an annual fee after the first year) in cases where a baby has a sick sibling or another family member who could benefit from the cord blood.
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.
Smith F, Kurtzberg J, Karson E, et al. Umbilical cord blood collection, storage and transplantation: issues and recommendations for expectant parents and patients. Cancer Res Ther Control.1999;10 :217– 226
Currently, ViaCord has released the most cord blood units for medical transplant and has the highest cord blood transplant survival rate among companies who have disclosed complete transplant data. The one-year survival rate of patients who were treated with ViaCord cord blood units is 88%, and the long-term patient survival rate is 82%.1
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.
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.
Patients with leukemia, lymphoma, or certain inherited metabolic or immune system disorders have diseased blood-forming cells. For some patients, an umbilical cord blood or bone marrow transplant (also called a BMT) may be their best treatment option.
Americord offers parents the ability to collect stem cells from the placenta and umbilical cord soon after the child’s birth. These stem cells, obtained from cord blood, cord tissue and placenta tissue, can be used to help treat genetic diseases and other threats to the baby’s life. Placenta tissue stem cells can also be used to benefit the mother.
Our annual storage fee is due every year on the birth date of the child and covers the cost of storage until the following birthday. The fee is the same $150 for both our standard and our premium cord blood services. The annual cord tissue storage fee is an additional $150.
Ozkaynak MF, Sandoval C, Levendoglu-Tugal O, Jayabose S. A pilot trial of tandem autologous peripheral blood progenitor cell transplantation following high-dose thiotepa and carboplatin in children with poor-risk central nervous system tumors. Pediatr Hematol Oncol.2004;21 :635– 645
Cord blood banking can be complex & difficult to research. To help consumers get started, our editors have spent over 200 hours reviewing the best cord blood registries & making this year’s selections of best all-around providers.
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.
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.
Some parents-to-be are sold on the advertising that banking their child’s cord blood could potentially treat an array of diseases the child, or his siblings, could encounter in their lives. Other parents-to-be may find all the promises too good to be true.
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RENECE WALLER-WISE is a licensed clinical nurse specialist and childbirth educator at Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan, Alabama. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Troy University in Troy, Alabama.
Bielorai B, Trakhtenbrot L, Amariglio N, et al. Multilineage hematopoietic engraftment after allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplantation without conditioning in SCID patients. Bone Marrow Transplant.2004;34 :317– 320
Regenerative therapy is the practice of delivering cells and cell products to renew diseased or damaged tissues in a specific area. It is one of the fastest growing fields of medical research. Each year, new regenerative therapies using stem cells from cord blood and cord tissue enter into clinical trials for the treatment of chronic and life-threatening diseases. If proven successful, these clinical trials will lead to approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With FDA-approval, these treatments can then be administered as a general practice.
Professionals affiliated with institutions or organizations that promote for-profit placental blood stem cell banking should make annual financial-disclosure and potential-conflicts-of-interest statements to an appropriate institutional review committee that possesses oversight authority.
Umbilical cord blood can save lives. Cord blood is rich in stem cells that can morph into all sorts of blood cells, which 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. There are a few ways for transplant patients to get blood cells (umbilical and placenta, bone marrow, peripheral/circulation), but cord blood is easier to match with patients, and because it is gathered during birth from the umbilical cord, it’s a painless procedure.
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.
Prior to transplanting any type of tissue, a “matching” process must occur to increase the success of the transplant and decrease the likelihood that the transplant will be rejected. The rejection of a transplanted tissue is called “graft versus host disease.” The matching process dates back to the late 1950s when the human leukocyte antigens were discovered. There are two classes of human leukocyte antigens. The first class is located on the surface of almost all of the cells with a nucleus within the body of the cell. The second class of human leukocyte antigens is located on the surface of immune cells. Each of the two classes of antigens has three subgroups, creating six antigens for which matching can occur. Thus, a “6 of 6” matching of the antigens represents a “perfect” match. Beyond the matching process, other factors contribute to the success or failure of a stem cell transplant. These factors include, but are not limited to, the age of both the donor and the patient, the type of disease being treated, and the number of stem cells being transplanted (Moise, 2005).
“Processing” refers to separating the important components of the whole cord blood before cryopreservation. There are many methods used to process cord blood that can achieve the same goal: storing the important cells for potential future use. However, it’s important to point out some differences between methods:
Four main types of physical conditions are treated with stem cell transplants: cancers, blood disorders, congenital metabolic disorders, and immunodeficiencies (see Table 1). Examples of cancers that are treated with stem cells are both lymphoma and leukemia. Nonmalignant hemologic disorders also account for a fair share of the recipients of stem cells. Examples of these blood disorders are various types of anemias, such as sickle-cell anemia and Fanconi’s anemia (the first disorder treated with umbilical cord blood stem cells). Stem cells have also been used to treat various metabolic disorders, such as adrenoleukodystrophy. The fourth major category of uses for stem cells is in treating immunodeficiencies, such as Duncan’s disease or adenosine deaminase deficiency (Drew, 2005; Moise, 2005).
At the end of a recent childbirth class, I found two couples engaged in a lengthy discussion. In the course of the conversation, both couples agreed that their goal was to do the best things for their pregnancy and birth. They were attending childbirth classes to learn how to support normal birth. They each were planning to attend breastfeeding classes. As their conversation continued, the first couple described their decision to bank the umbilical cord blood of their yet unborn daughter. They were adamant that their decision was the best action for them because they had a strong family history of myasthenia gravis. They stated that they had researched the issue by talking to several different cord blood banks, and they had decided on one particular bank because it processed the cord blood without the use of the anticoagulant drug, heparin. The couple went on to parrot back the information that the cord blood bank had told them. It was evident that the first couple wanted what was best for their yet unborn child.
Private cord blood banks store cord blood for you in case your child or someone in your immediate family needs it in the future. These private collections are owned by you and you decide how your baby’s cord blood is used. There are processing and storage fees associated with private cord blood banks.
§ 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.
The policy also points out that if cord clamping is done too soon after birth, the infant may be deprived of a placental blood transfusion, resulting in lower blood volume and increased risk for anemia later in life.
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.
Choosing a bank (specifically a private bank) for her daughter’s cord blood made perfect sense to Julie Lehrman, a mom based in Chicago. “We wanted the extra assurance that we were doing everything we could to keep Lexi healthy,” Lehrman says. “I was older when Lexi was born, and there’s a lot we didn’t know about my mom’s health history, so we felt that we were making a smart decision.” Fortunately, Lexi was born healthy, and neither she nor anyone else in the family has needed the cord blood since it was stored seven years ago. But Lehrman has no regrets; she still feels the family made a wise investment. “Lexi or her brother or even one of us could still need that blood in the future, so I’m thankful that we have it.” But banking your child’s cord blood may not be the right decision for you. Read on to see if you should opt for private cord blood banking.
The baby’s cord blood will be processed and stored in a laboratory facility, often referred to as a blood bank. The cord blood should be processed and stored in a facility that is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) for the purpose of handling stem cells.
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]
Bunin N, Aplenc R, Iannone R, et al. Unrelated donor bone marrow transplantation for children with severe aplastic anemia: minimal GVHD and durable engraftment with partial T cell depletion. Bone Marrow Transplant.2005;35 :369– 373
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).