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Why should you consider donating the cord blood to a public bank? Simply because, besides bringing a new life into the world, you could be saving an individual whose best chance at life is a stem cell transplant with your baby’s donated cord blood. This can only happen if you donate and if your baby is a close enough match for a patient in need. If you chose to reserve the cord blood for your family, then siblings who have the same parents have a 25% chance of being an exact match.
Regulatory agencies (eg, FDA, Federal Trade Commission, and state equivalents of these federal agencies) are encouraged to have an active role in providing oversight of the cord blood program. All cord blood–banking programs should comply with FACT or equivalent accreditation standards.
Direct-donation umbilical cord blood banks function as an amalgamation of public and private banks. Direct-donation banks collect cord blood without charging fees. In addition, they accept autogenous donations and reserve them only for the family, especially for a family whose infant has a sibling with a disorder that may be treated with umbilical cord blood stem cells (Moise, 2005).
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.
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.
Targeted efforts should be made to recruit underserved minorities (black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native individuals) in public cord blood–banking programs to extend to them potential treatments afforded other segments of society.
Extracting stem cells from bone marrow requires surgery under anesthesia; extracting them from the blood requires taking a drug to stimulate their production. And in order to work, these stem cell donations need to come from a person who carries a similar pattern of proteins on the outsides of his or her cells, a molecular calling card known as HLA type. Stem cells found in cord blood don’t need to be as closely matched to work. Because these cells are so flexible, there’s more wiggle room between donor and recipient. That’s particularly good news for people of certain ethnic minorities who often have trouble finding matched stem cell transplant donors.
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.
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.
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.
Families that are predisposed to certain diseases, that are ethnically mixed, that are adopting a newborn child, or that have a family member who may need a stem cell transplant should take special care to understand the value the cells may provide and their storage options.
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.
To explain why cord blood banking is so expensive in the United States, we wrote an article with the CEO of a public cord blood bank that lists the steps in cord blood banking and itemizes the cost of each one.
Cord blood donation should be encouraged when the cord blood is stored in a bank for public use. Parents should recognize that genetic (eg, chromosomal abnormalities) and infectious disease testing is performed on the cord blood and that if abnormalities are identified, they will be notified. Parents should also be informed that the cord blood banked in a public program may not be accessible for future private use.
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The cord blood cell recovery data reported by CBR and others is consistently higher than the published, available data of other processing methods including PrepaCyte® and Hespan, when combined with CPD.
Wagner JE, Rosenthal J, Sweetman R, et al. Successful transplantation of HLA-matched and HLA-mismatched umbilical cord blood from unrelated donors: analysis of engraftment and acute graft-versus-host disease. Blood.1996;88 :795– 802
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.
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:
Several of these groundbreaking trials only use cord blood stem cells processed by Cord Blood Registry as a way of ensuring consistent quality. That means, saving with Cord Blood Registry gives families access to more uses and treatments.
The Cord Blood Registry (CBR) is unique, because it is currently the world’s largest cord blood bank, with over a half-million cord blood and cord tissue units stored to date. This is substantially more than its nearest competitor, ViaCord, which has 350,000 units stored. It was recently acquired by pharmaceutical giant, AMAG Pharmaceuticals, for $700 million in June 2015.
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.
Umbilical cord blood stem cells are different from other kinds of cells in a couple of different ways. The first is that umbilical cord blood stem cells are unspecialized cells, which have the ability to renew themselves by cell division, even after significant time has elapsed since they were frozen. The second reason is that in certain situations, and under exacting conditions, the umbilical cord stem cells can become tissue- or organ-specific cells, allowing regeneration of those tissues.
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.
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.