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If you intend donating umbilical cord blood for preservation and later use, you should let your doctor know by your 34th week so that they can help make any arrangements with a cord blood bank. Once you and your doctor have decided on which cord blood bank to use, you will often be sent informational reading materials from the cord blood bank for further education regarding the process of cord blood harvesting.
Cord blood has been shown to contain pluripotent stem cells that have the potential to differentiate into nonhematopoietic tissue, such as cardiac, neurologic, pancreatic, and skin tissue, in vitro.53,54 Extensive laboratory research is taking place to explore the potential therapeutic benefit of cord blood under these circumstances. The results of this research will be necessary to formulate future recommendations regarding autologous cord blood banking.
Bunin N, Aplenc R, Leahey A, et al. Outcomes of transplantation with partial T-cell depletion of matched or mismatched unrelated or partially matched related donor bone marrow in children and adolescents with leukemias. Bone Marrow Transplant.2005;35 :151– 158
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.
Since the first unrelated cord blood–banking program was started at the New York Blood Center in 1991,40 a number of public cord blood–banking programs have been established throughout the world to collect, type, screen for infection, and cryogenically store cord blood for potential transplantation to unrelated and related recipients.41–49 Some of these programs had been funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (National Institutes of Health), the National Marrow Donor Program, the American Red Cross, or academic programs based in not-for-profit organizations. One cord blood program initiated by the National Institutes of Health exists solely for sibling donor collection for families who are likely to consider cord blood transplantation because a first-degree relative has been diagnosed with a disease that is treatable with allogeneic transplantation. In this bank, families own the cord blood, and it is shipped to a designated transplant center in the event a medical decision to proceed with cord blood transplantation is made.50
Public cord blood banking is free, but you give up your rights to the cord blood stem cells at the time of donation. Just like donating to a blood bank, this means your donation would be owned by the public cord blood bank and not by you. Your donated cord blood stem cells can be used for medical research or could possibly save a life through a transplant. Public cord blood banks release your child’s stem cells when a good match from a registry is identified.1
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.
Just like other blood donations, there is no cost to the donor of cord blood. If you do not choose to store your baby’s blood, please consider donating it. Your donation could make a difference in someone else’s life.
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.
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).
Recently, it was shown that umbilical cord blood contains a sufficient number of hematopoietic stem cells to be used for transplantation. More than 5500 unrelated-donor cord blood stem cell transplants for a variety of pediatric genetic,22,24–31 hematologic,22,24,25,29,32 immunologic,28 metabolic,26,27,30 and oncologic19,20,33–36 disorders have been performed to date (Table 1). The 1-year survival may be as high as 75% to 90% after sibling HLA-matched cord blood donor stem cell transplantation21,24,29 and 40% to 80% after unrelated cord blood stem cell transplantation.19,20,26,27,33,35,36 Advantages of the use of cord blood include the fact that it is readily available, carries less risk of transmission of blood-borne infectious diseases, and is transplantable across HLA barriers with diminished risk of graft-versus-host disease compared with similarly mismatched stem cells from the peripheral blood or bone marrow of related or unrelated donors.21,34,35,37 Autologous stem cells38,39 have been used for gene therapy in infants with severe combined immunodeficiency, but the appearance of T-lymphocyte leukemia in some patients has indicated the need for more basic research before additional clinical trials of gene therapy can be undertaken.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics don’t recommend routine cord blood storage. The groups say private banks should only be used when there’s a sibling with a medical condition who could benefit from the stem cells. Families are encouraged to donate stem cells to a public bank to help others.
A history of releasing cord blood units for therapy. “This shows they’re not just selling contracts to parents — there are doctors who are actually accepting units of cord blood that have been stored there for therapy,” 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.
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.
Cord blood banking is not always cheap. It’s completely free to donate blood to a public cord blood bank, but private banks charge $1,400 to $2,300 for collecting, testing, and registering, plus an annual $95 to $125 storing fee.
“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.
The primary benefit to cord blood banking is that it provides a type of medical insurance. This insurance is not from a financial perspective, but rather takes the form of having the necessary medical building blocks available should they be needed in the event of certain illnesses and diseases. Those medical building blocks are the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood.
10. Organ failure. What better way to ease the shortage of organs for transplantation than to grow new ones? That’s what some scientists think, and with stem cells, that vision may become more than a pipe dream. Last year, researchers grew a beating rat heart in the lab with the help of heart cells from newborn rats, preliminary proof of the concept.
You need to plan ahead if you decide to store cord blood. Banks need to be notified four to six weeks before your due date if you’re interested in donating blood. Once you do decide on a public bank, those affiliated with the Be the Match registry (bethematch.org/cord) will cover the costs of collecting, processing, and storing cord blood units.
Fox N. S., Stevens C., Cuibotariu R., Rubinstein P., McCullough L. B., & Chervenak F. A. (2007). Umbilical cord blood collection: Do patients really understand? Journal of Perinatal Medicine, 35, 314–321 [PubMed]
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.
Preserving stem cells does not guarantee that the saved stem cells will be applicable for every situation. Ultimate use will be determined by a physician. Please note: Americord Registry’s activities are limited to collection of umbilical cord tissue from autologous donors. Americord Registry’s possession of a New York State license for such collection does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of cells derived from umbilical cord tissue.
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
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.
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.
Stem cells are able to transform into other types of cells in the body to create new growth and development. They are also the building blocks of the immune system. The transformation of these cells provides doctors with a way to treat leukemia and some inherited health disorders.
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.
Ballen K., Broxmeyer H. E., McCullough J., Piaciabello W., Rebulla P., Verfaillie C. M., & Wagner J. E. (2001). Current status of cord blood banking and transplantation in the United States and Europe. Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation, 7(12), 635–645 [PubMed]
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.
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.
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.
When you’re pregnant, especially for the first time, you have to make a lot of decisions. Will coffee remain a part of your life? Where are you going to give birth? What are you going to name the baby? What values will you teach him? Do you really need a baby spa bathtub?
Umbilical cord blood was once thought of as a waste product of the birthing experience, but now it is valued for its content of stem cells. Today, more than 20 years after the first successful umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant, more families are seeking information about whether or not to invest in saving their newborn’s umbilical cord blood. Saving the cord blood in public banks is a worthy undertaking for any family. It is recommended that expectant families only consider cord blood banking in private banks when they have a relative with a known disorder that is already treatable by stem cell transplants. Moreover, expectant families should not rely on commercial cord blood banks as their sole source of information about cord blood banking.
Another contributor to cord blood banking costs is the quality of the collection kit. Cheaper banks typically use flimsy collection kits. To insure the survival of newborn stem cells, the shipping container should be thermally insulated to maintain kit temperature during cord blood shipments.
In order to preserve more types and quantity of umbilical cord stem cells and to maximize possible future health options, Cryo-Cell’s umbilical cord tissue service provides expectant families with the opportunity to cryogenically store their newborn’s umbilical cord tissue cells contained within substantially intact cord tissue. Should umbilical cord tissue cells be considered for potential utilization in a future therapeutic application, further laboratory processing may be necessary. Regarding umbilical cord tissue, all private blood banks’ activities for New York State residents are limited to collection, processing, and long-term storage of umbilical cord tissue stem cells. The possession of a New York State license for such collection, processing and long-term storage does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of these cells.
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).
ViaCord collaborates with leading research and medical centers across the country to help advance medical treatments using cord blood, discover treatments using cord tissue, and connect families to relevant clinical trials.
Cairo MS, Wagner EL, Fraser J, et al. Characterization of banked umbilical cord blood hematopoietic progenitor cells and lymphocyte subsets and correlation with ethnicity, birth weight, sex, and type of delivery: a Cord Blood Transplantation (COBLT) Study report. Transfusion.2005;45 :856– 866
One of the factors that influence engraftment time is cell dose (Gunning, 2007). Cell dose is directly related to the volume of umbilical cord blood collected. Cell dose refers to the amount of useful stem cells in the sample of blood. Because of the limited volume of cells collected from cord blood, the amount of stem cells in cord blood is approximately 10% less than the amount obtained from bone marrow (Moise, 2005). A single unit of umbilical cord blood usually contains 50 to 200 ml of blood (Gonzalez-Ryan et al., 2000). If an amount of cord blood is less than this minimum volume, the unit is discarded as being unsatisfactory because the cell dose of the sample would not be high enough. Collecting an insufficient volume of cord blood occurs in about 50% or more cases of cord blood collection (Drew, 2005). In general, fewer stem cells are needed for cord blood transplantation, and usually a volume of 50 to 100 ml of cord blood will provide enough of a cell dose for a child or small adult. However, should the recipient need additional stem cells, it is impossible to obtain more stem cells from the infant because the cord blood volume is a limited amount (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.