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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.
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.
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.
The procedure of cord clamping can be delayed for a considerable period of time. However, the delay has to be a brief one. It cannot be delayed more than one or two minutes. If the procedure of clamping the cord is delayed for too long, the blood present in the cord might clot and once the blood clots it does not benefit anyone. Neither does it help your baby nor can it be collected for storage.
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).
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.
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
Cord blood has been used for 20 years to treat more than 80 serious diseases.34 Successful treatments have paved the way for further research and today, FDA-regulated clinical trials are exploring the use of a child’s own stem cells for conditions that currently have no cure.
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.
An accredited lab. In the United States, the FDA requires all public banks to have a Biologics License Application, but not private banks, though they are registered and inspected. Both public and private banks should have extra accreditation, which means banks are evaluated for the quality and accuracy of work. The two companies that handle accreditation are the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) and the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT). Look for a bank with its own lab (some banks use labs at other banks), which means more regular quality control and testing standards.
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Blood naturally starts to clot when its outside the body. An anticoagulant is used to help prevent the cord blood from clotting while it is in transit to the laboratory for processing. CBR deliberately chose to use lyophilized (dry) heparin as the anticoagulant because of some potential advantages, including:
This means that family members, and possibly even strangers, may be able to use the cord blood stem cells for certain treatments. Siblings from the same biological parents have the highest chance of full or partial genetic match, followed by the biological parents who may be a partial match.
Some brochures advertising private cord blood banking show children with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder, who were treated with their own stem cells. In the case of Cord Blood Registry, the company lists all stem cell transplants conducted at Duke University. In a list of individuals treated in their “stem cell therapy data” cerebral palsy is listed. However, transplants were part of an early research study and studies of efficacy are just now underway.
Many cord blood banks will also store cord tissue. Research around cord tissue is still in it’s early stages, and while there is little known about the benefits of cord blood tissue, researchers are confident that cord tissue treatments could included repairing damaged tissue, ligaments and organs resulting from burns, ulcers or wounds.
If you want the blood stored, after the birth, the doctor clamps the umbilical cord in two places, about 10 inches apart, and cuts the cord, separating mother from baby. Then she inserts a needle and collects at least 40 milliliters of blood from the cord. The blood is sealed in a bag and sent to a lab or cord blood bank for testing and storage. The process only takes a few minutes and is painless for mother and baby.
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According to the statement, “Families may be vulnerable to emotional marketing 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 cells. The range of available estimates is from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000.” For this and other reasons, it is difficult to recommend that parents store their children’s cord blood for future use. The AAP policy states:
Right after the cord is clamped and cut, your medical practitioner uses a needle and gets it inserted into the umbilical vein of the cord. Only that part is cut which is still attached to the placenta. High quality and proper needles are used and they do not go anywhere near your baby.
Quite simply, cord blood is the remaining blood from your baby’s umbilical cord and placenta after birth. Cord blood is loaded with our “stem cells” which are origins of the body’s immune and blood system and maybe the origin of other organs and important systems in the body. Stem cells are important because they have the ability to regenerate into other types of cells in the body.
We chose the site of our lab for one reason in particular: safety. As one of the safest cities in the US, Tucson ensures our families’ samples will be protected from natural disaster. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, could interrupt consistent long-term storage of stem cells.
Of particular interest are the flexible hematopoietic stem cells important in that initial transplant. In certain cases, transplanting these cells might be able to reboot a person’s body and get rid of a disease-related defect. Cord blood transplants are similar to bone marrow transplants. A person with leukemia, for instance, might have his own cancerous blood cells wiped out with chemotherapy and radiation. Healthy, non-cancerous stem cells from a donor can then repopulate the blood.
If the doubts of the AAP, weren’t enough to turn you off cord banking, the cost is enormous. At Viacord, (see ad on left) the price begins at $1550 at birth, plus $150 for a courier to deliver the blood, plus $95 dollars for storage a year. At these prices, that will cost you $2840 by the time your baby is 21.
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.
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.
Private cord blood banking can benefit those with a strong family history of certain diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and some cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. Parents who already have a child (in a household with biological siblings) who is sick with one of these diseases have the greatest chance of finding a match with their baby’s cord blood. Parents who have a family history of autism, Alzheimer’s, and type 1 diabetes can benefit from cord blood. Although these diseases aren’t currently treated with umbilical cord steam cells, researchers are exploring ways to treat them (and many more) with cord blood.
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]
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.
7. Lung diseases. From human embryonic stem cells, researchers in Texas have created transplantable sources of lung cells in the lab. Those lung cells could potentially be used to repair damage brought on by a variety of pulmonary conditions or by lung trauma resulting from a car accident, bullet wound, or sports injury. Unpublished studies using such cells have shown promise for tissue repair in mice with acute lung injury, the group reports.
Myers LA, Hershfield MS, Neale WT, Escolar M, Kurtzberg J. Purine nucleoside phosphorylase deficiency (PNP-def) presenting with lymphopenia and developmental delay: successful correction with umbilical cord blood transplantation. J Pediatr.2004;145 :710– 712