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Umbilical cord blood transplants are now used to treat numerous types of immune- and blood-related disorders and genetic diseases. Cord blood (CB) banks play an important role in these transplants by processing and storing CB units. In addition to their therapeutic potential, these banks raise ethical and regulatory questions, especially in emerging markets in the Arab world. In this article, the authors review CB banking in five countries in the region, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, selected for their different CB banking policies and initiatives. In assessing these case studies, the authors present regional trends and issues, including religious perspectives, policies, and demographic risk factors. This research suggests strong incentives for increasing the number of CB units that are collected from and available to Arab populations. In addition, the deficit in knowledge concerning public opinion and awareness in the region should be addressed to ensure educated decision-making.
Part of the reason for the dominance of these three companies in terms of the total number of units stored is that they are three of the oldest cord blood banks within the U.S., founded in 1992, 1993, and 1989, respectively. All three of these cord blood banks also support cord blood research and clinical trials.
Let’s look back at the expectant couple in my childbirth class who asked about banking their infant’s umbilical cord blood. They should not base their decision to bank the umbilical cord blood on the type of anticoagulant used to preserve the sample; likewise, they should not obtain all of their information on cord blood banking from the private cord blood bank, whose major agenda is to gain another client. Instead, they must be encouraged to research various resources for reliable information (see Table 4). If they have evidence that stem cells are used currently to treat a specific disease process that is affecting a family member, and is not simply a proposed idea, then it might be in their best interest to privately bank the umbilical cord blood. However, they should be aware that simply banking the cord blood does not ensure a cure, and they would most likely be banking the blood not for the current baby, but for some other family member. They must also be aware of the cost involved in the banking process. Finally, if they do not have a relative with a disease process treated with stem cells or there is no evidence that stem cells are used to treat the diseases that are known to be in their family, then they should consider public banking of the umbilical cord blood (if they have access to a public cord blood bank).
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* Cbr Systems, Inc.’s activities for New York State residents are limited to collection of umbilical cord t style=”list-style-type: initial;”issue 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.
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.
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:
The main purpose of a cord blood company is to store umbilical cord blood for families in case they need to access it for future use. Cord blood from a baby is stored because it has the potential to help treat blood or immune system diseases. There are both private and public cord blood companies, sometimes referred to as cord blood banks.
Private cord blood banking costs $2,000 to $3,000 for the initial fee, and around another $100 per year for storage. While that may seem like a hefty price tag, many expectant parents may see it as an investment in their child’s long-term health.
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.
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.
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.
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Priority shipping: Cord blood companies that use priority shipping services have families ship them cord blood in a heavily insulated box, which arrives at the cord bank at a certain time, but does not guarantee that the blood remains at a certain temperature.
Cord blood can’t be used to treat everything. If your child is born with a genetic condition such as muscular dystrophy or spina bifida, then the stem cells would have that condition, says Dr. Kurtzberg. But if the cord blood donor is healthy and there is a sibling or another immediate family member who has a genetic condition, the cord blood could be a good match for them.
“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.
Stay up on the latest stem cell developments with our stem cell news blog. Read about the newest trials that are underway, how current trials are faring and new ways that cord blood and tissue stem cells are being used in regenerative therapies. For doctors and researches, the Stem Cell Insider provides a more detailed look at the latest stem cell news and showcases the latest advancements in our products to help ensure stem cells preserved with us are viable and pure.
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.
Childbirth educators may be one of the first resources that an expectant family turns to in order to gain more knowledge to make an informed decision about collecting umbilical cord blood in the birthing process. Therefore, the childbirth educator should be well versed on the topic, so that as questions from class participants arise, the multiple facets of umbilical cord blood banking can be explored.
Save by paying in advance for 21 years of storage through our long-term storage plan. This plan covers all the initial fees (collection kit, courier service, processing, and preservation) and the cost of 21 years of continuous storage. A lifetime plan is also available; call for details.
Chandy M, Balasubramanian P, Ramachandran SV, et al. Randomized trial of two different conditioning regimens for bone marrow transplantation in thalassemia: the role of busulfan pharmacokinetics in determining outcome. Bone Marrow Transplant.2005;36 :839– 845
Research on stem cell transplants began in the 1950s, with successful bone marrow transplants occurring in the 1970s, often to treat cancer patients whose own bone marrow was destroyed by chemotherapy and radiation. The first successful umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant was reported as occurring in the late 1980s. The recipient was a 6-year-old American boy from North Carolina who was treated for Fanconi’s anemia (a genetic disorder) at Hospital St. Louis in Paris, France, using cord blood obtained from his younger sister’s birth. Interestingly, more than 20 years after the transplant, this young man is alive and well. Not only did he survive long term, but both his immune system and his blood were transformed by the transplant of his sister’s cord blood stem cells. Soon after this first documented cord blood stem cell transplant, the first public umbilical cord blood bank was established in 1991 in New York (McGuckin & Forraz, 2008).
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).
Not all moms can donate their cord blood. Moms who are not eligible are those who: are younger than 18 years old (in most states), have been treated for cancer or have received chemotherapy for another illness, have had malaria in the last three years, or have been treated for a blood disease such as HIV or hepatitis. It’s also not possible to donate cord blood if a mom has delivered her baby prematurely (there may not be enough blood to collect) or delivered multiples (but it’s possible to bank your cord blood of multiples privately).
Only three to five ounces of blood is collected from each umbilical cord. This small amount is enough to treat a sick child, but not an adult, unless multiple units of matched cord blood are used, says William T. Shearer, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics and Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
However, this does not mean more is better. Cord blood banks we reviewed are similar in terms of the quality of services they provided. Affordable services are still available, especially with the different discount options offered by many of the top cord blood banks reviewed.
Cord blood banking takes blood from the umbilical cord at the time of birth, and donates it to a public blood bank, or stores it in a private one. Since this blood is so rich in stem cells, which have the potential to become any human cell, it could someday be used as a treatment for the child or their family members.
The cord blood collection process is simple, safe, and painless. The process usually takes no longer than five minutes. Cord blood collection does not interfere with delivery and is possible with both vaginal and cesarean deliveries.
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).
1. Spinal cord injury. In January, the Food and Drug Administration OK’d its first-ever human study of a medical treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells. The objective: help people with acute spinal cord injuries. While expected to assess only the safety of the treatment, the study also might show if the paralyzed volunteers can regain some feeling in and control over their lower extremities.
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.
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.
The second couple listened intently to the conversation, interjecting that they hadn’t considered cord blood banking, and they looked toward me. They started asking the other couple, and me, many questions about cord blood banking. What is the cost? How is it done? What are the uses of cord blood? Is it only used to treat the baby later in life? Will cord blood treat myasthenia gravis? And finally, is it worth the time, effort, and money to invest in cord blood banking?
One of the key things you’ll want the cord blood bank’s representative to explain to you is how the cord blood bank collects and stores cord blood. Collection and storage methods may differ across cord blood banking companies, and you’ll want to be sure that the cord blood bank complies with all federal standards.2
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.
When you consider that public banks can only expect to ship 1-2% of their inventory for transplant, you can quickly understand why most public banks are struggling to make ends meet. That struggle means that fewer collection programs are staffed, and there are fewer opportunities for parents to donate to the public good. We said earlier that public banks only keep cord blood donations over a minimum of 900 million cells, but today most public banks have raised that threshold to 1.5 billion cells. The reason is that the largest units are the ones most likely to be used for transplants that bring income to the bank. Family cord blood banks do not need to impose volume thresholds because they have a profit margin on every unit banked.