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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 choices expectant parents make today go beyond finding out the gender of their baby. They span beyond deciding whether to find out if their child, still in the womb, may potentially have a genetic disorder. Today, many parents must decide whether to store their baby’s umbilical cord blood so it will be available to heal their child if at any point in the child’s lifetime he or she becomes sick.
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.
Laughlin MJ, Rizzieri DA, Smith CA, et al. Hematologic engraftment and reconstitution of immune function post unrelated placental cord blood transplant in an adult with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Leuk Res.1998;22 :215– 219
Most of the diseases for which HSCT is a standard treatment are disorders of blood cell lineage. The proliferation by which blood cells are formed from stem cells is illustrated in the side graphic (click on the image to expand it); you can also read about specific cell types in the immune system in more detail. In the United States, most health insurance providers will pay for a stem cell transplant if it is a “standard therapy” for the patient’s diagnosis.
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.
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.
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
Anyway, the excitement over the embryonic cells comes from their remarkable ability, as biological blank slates, to become virtually any of the body’s cell types. Many observers believe the president’s move will accelerate the hunt for cures for some of our most vexing diseases. However, the benefits are largely hypothetical, given the infancy of the field, and are offset by some real obstacles: The risks of embryonic stem cells, as well as cells programmed to become like them, including the possibility they will actually cause cancers in people who receive them. Nonetheless, here’s a look at 10 health problems that stem cells might someday cure or at least help treat.
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.
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.
Another important consideration for autologous use is that, currently, it is unknown how long umbilical cord blood will maintain its usefulness while frozen. Research indicates that cord blood stem cells can be maintained up to 15 years, but it is unknown if the cells would be preserved over the entire lifetime of a person (Ballen et al., 2001; Hess, 1997). Furthermore, financial costs are associated with maintaining the cord blood over time. Kaimal, Smith, Laros, Caughey, and Cheng (2009) studied the cost-effectiveness of private umbilical cord blood banking for autologous use and concluded that it was not cost-effective in most instances because the chances that it would be used are extremely small.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Barker JN, Davies SM, DeFor T, Ramsay NK, Weisdorf DJ, Wagner JE. Survival after transplantation of unrelated donor umbilical cord blood is comparable to that of human leukocyte antigen-matched unrelated donor bone marrow: results of a matched-pair analysis. Blood.2001;97 :2957– 2961
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.
Proponents of cord blood banking are convinced that instead of being medical waste, the fetal cells within are biological gold. In this post, and the two that follow, I’ll take a look at the evidence for those claims, and sort through some of the questions that arise as parents consider whether to bank their baby’s cord blood.
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.
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.
2 Cordblood.com, (2014). Cord Blood Stem Cell Banking | Cord Blood Registry | CBR. [online] Available at: http://www.cordblood.com/cord-blood-banking-cost/cord-blood-stem-cells [Accessed 22 March. 2017].
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.
Another important disadvantage that is not well understood by the general public is the limited use of an infant’s own umbilical cord blood stem cells later in life, called an autologous transplant. Commercial cord blood banks often advertise the banking of the infant’s cord blood as “biologic insurance.” However, the chance that a child would be able to use his or her own cord blood is extremely small: from a 1:400 to a 1:200,000 chance over the child’s lifetime (Sullivan, 2008). In fact, there are certain instances in which the use of one’s own umbilical cord blood is contraindicated, as in cases when the defect is of a genetic origin. For example, autologous cord blood stem cells cannot be used to treat malignant cancers such as leukemia because the genetic mutations for the cancer already exist on the DNA of the cord blood. Using one’s own stem cells would be, in effect, “contaminating” oneself with the same disease process (Percer, 2009).
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.