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Jaing TH, Hung IJ, Yang CP, Chen SH, Sun CF, Chow R. Rapid and complete donor chimerism after unrelated mismatched cord blood transplantation in 5 children with beta-thalassemia major. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant.2005;11 :349– 353
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.
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.
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.
Hard numbers are tricky to pin down, but between that first transplant in 1988 and 2015, an estimated 35,000 umbilical cord blood transplants had been performed globally. That number includes people treated for leukemia and other types of cancer, blood disorders and immune diseases. And the utility of umbilical cord cells may stretch well beyond the disorders that the cells are currently being used for. “If you read the literature, it’s pretty exciting,” says pediatrician and immunologist William Shearer of Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.
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.
Migliaccio AR, Adamson JW, Stevens CE, Dobrila NL, Carrier CM, Rubinstein P. Cell dose and speed of engraftment in placental/umbilical cord blood transplantation: graft progenitor cell content is a better predictor than nucleated cell quantity. Blood.2000;96 :2717– 2722
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.
CBR’s laboratory was specifically designed for newborn stem cell processing and storage, and consequently, CBR has invested millions of dollars to help ensure the long-term safety and viability of your newborn’s stem cells.
Transplant science is constantly improving. Several companies are bringing to market methods of “expanding” the stem cell population in the laboratory, and these methods are starting to be applied in clinical trials.
Families with a history of diseases can store cord blood in a bank. These families can access it should a person get sick with an immune system or blood disease, like leukemia or sickle-cell anemia, later in life.
3. Heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death in the United States, and stem cells may provide some relief. Research is underway to see if injecting the cells into the heart could help regenerate heart muscle damaged by, for example, a heart attack. Again, researchers have reported success in rodents.
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.
Cord tissue is rich in another type of stem cell. Although there are no current uses, researchers are excited about the benefits cord tissue stem cells may offer in potential future users, such as regenerative medicine. By storing both, you’ll have potential access to more possibilities
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.
For much of pregnancy, the umbilical cord is the lifeline of a fetus, tethering it to the placenta. Snaking through the nearly 2-feet-long cord, there’s a vein ferrying nutrients and oxygen from mom’s blood (via the placenta), plus two arteries carrying oxygen- and nutrient-depleted blood from the fetus back to mom. Because mother’s blood and fetal blood don’t actually mix much, the blood in the placenta and umbilical cord at birth belongs mainly to the fetus.
After a baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta are no longer needed and are usually discarded. However, the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta is rich with blood-forming cells. (These cells are not embryonic stem cells.) By collecting and freezing this blood, the healthy blood-forming cells can be stored and may later be used by a patient who needs them.
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.
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.
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.
The collection of your baby’s cord blood happens the day your baby is born. After delivery it’s standard procedure for your doctor or midwife to clamp and cut the umbilical cord. Using ViaCord’s collection kit, they will then insert a needle into the cord to collect the remaining blood. Once the collection is complete, they will seal the bag, attach the pre-printed label with your family’s information, and place it in the collection kit. A medical courier will pick up the kit from your hospital room and transport it to ViaCord’s state-of-the-art lab and storage facility, where lab specialists will process the cord blood in preparation for long-term storage.
Current trials show promise for cord blood in the treatment of strokes, heart disease, diabetes and more. Umbilical cord–derived stem cells, meanwhile, are undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, sports-related injuries and various neurodegenerative diseases including ALS (known also as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and Alzheimer’s.
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.
Nagatoshi Y, Kawano Y, Okamura J. Comparison of the outcomes of allogeneic bone marrow transplantation from partially mismatched related donors, matched sibling donors, and matched unrelated donors in Japanese pediatric patients: a single center result. Pediatr Transplant.2004;8 :260– 266
Wall DA, Carter SL, Kernan NA, et al. Busulfan/melphalan/antithymocyte globulin followed by unrelated donor cord blood transplantation for treatment of infant leukemia and leukemia in young children: the Cord Blood Transplantation study (COBLT) experience. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant.2005;11 :637– 646
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.
There are no health risks related to cord blood collection. Cord blood is retrieved from the umbilical cord after it has been cut, thus preventing any pain, discomfort, or harm. This process is completely safe.
Americord offers parents the ability to save stem cells from the umbilical cord and placenta after giving birth. This blood banking service uses new technology to ensure that children can receive treatment for genetic diseases. Find out more
Private cord blood banking is recommended for families with a history of certain diseases. Specifically, these are families with diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and certain cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. Why? The type of stem cells in cord blood can form all kinds of blood cells that can help treat these diseases.
Cord Blood Registry® (CBR®) is the world’s largest newborn stem cell company. Founded in 1992, CBR is entrusted by parents with storing samples from more than 600,000 children. CBR is dedicated to advancing the clinical application of cord blood and cord tissue stem cells by partnering with institutions to establish FDA-regulated clinical trials for conditions that have no cure today.
There are usually two fees involved in cord blood banking. The first is the initial fee that covers enrollment, collection, and storage for at least the first year. The second is an annual storage fee. Some facilities vary the initial fee based upon the length of a predetermined period of storage.
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.
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]
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).
Specializing in health and medicine, Sandra Gordon has written extensively about cord blood banking for national and regional parenting magazines. She also has written about baby products, including breast pumps, for national and regional parenting magazines, blogs and books. Her work has appeared in hundreds of publications, including Parents, Prevention, Woman’s Day and Self. Gordon also appears on TV as a baby safety and money-saving expert. She is also the author of 10 books and the founder of babyproductsmom.com, a site dedicated to helping new parents gear up safely and within their budget.
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.
Some ethical concerns over umbilical cord blood banking warrant mention. As previously stated, the AAP (2007) acknowledges that claims in advertisements for private cord blood banks are not accurate. In fact, some of the statements made by private cord blood banks are outright misleading (Fox et al., 2007), which raises questions about how informed consent for cord blood collection is obtained. Legally, the cord blood belongs to the child, but the consent of the mother alone is usually obtained for collection, and the consent of the father is rarely considered (Ballen, 2006). Because the cord blood now has a “value,” the person who obtains consent and that same person’s professional connection to the private cord blood bank may come into question (Pinch, 2001).
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.
As with all important decisions you make, the more educated you are, the better. After all, you only get one chance to bank your baby’s cord blood and you want to make sure that you choose a cord blood bank you can trust. Cord blood banking companies—especially private ones—vary widely in terms of quality, experience, and even the technology they use to collect, process, and store cord blood.
While some companies may advertise their cord tissue preservation service as “treatment-ready”, this is a misnomer. In the U.S. there are currently no treatments available that use cord tissue cells. Without knowing what the treatment protocols may look like in the future, preserving the cord tissue sample whole today means that all of the available cell types in this precious resource may be available to your family in the future.
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.