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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.
After harvesting, the umbilical cord blood is taken to a cord blood bank where it will be tested to make sure that it is clear of disease and other contaminants. Before being frozen, a cryopreservant is added to the cord blood so that the stem cells are able to be frozen without damaging them, after which they are stored in a liquid nitrogen Cord Blood storage tank at –196 Celsius.
The evolution from pluripotent stem cells down to blood stem cells is currently poorly understood. The latest indication is that, under the right conditions, stem cells in cord blood can be teased to grow into other types of tissue besides blood. This would open up an entirely new realm of potential treatment through the use of stem cells.
Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, established in 1998, is one of the largest public cord blood banks. It’s affiliated with Duke University, where trials are currently taking place to treat children with cerebral palsy with their own cord blood. Parents can mail in their cord blood donations and receive financial aid if they have a sick older child or family member who can be treated with cord blood.
Cord blood contains stem cells that can save lives. Patients requiring a stem cell transplant will receive cells from one of three sources: bone marrow, circulating blood, or umbilical cord blood. The first two exist in all healthy adults, but cord blood can only be harvested and stored at birth
8. Arthritis. Also called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis—the most common form of arthritis—results when protective cartilage in joints wastes away. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. Stem cells could change that. Scientists are examining how best to use them to rebuild lost cartilage and repair shot joints.
Although cord blood is currently considered discarded human material, it should only be collected for banking with an institutional review board–approved protocol and with signed informed consent from a parent.42,43 Pertinent donor information communicated to the cord blood bank should be kept confidential by the cord blood bank and used only to report important medical information obtained during the cord blood collection, processing, and screening process that is relevant to the safety of the donor and family. If cord blood was collected from a newborn who subsequently developed a genetic, immunologic, or malignant neoplastic disorder, parents should notify the cord blood bank so that the unit is not used for transplantation. All cord blood units banked for potential use should be tested for infectious diseases, similar to those tested in a blood bank, and for hereditary hematologic diseases. The informed consent must contain information pertaining to what tests are to be performed on the cord blood and how the parents will be informed if test results are abnormal. Pediatricians should be aware that legal cases relating to the duty of a physician to warn parents about the risks of inheriting a genetic disease are new and untested. Pediatricians should remain vigilant, because future cases may define who has a legal duty to notify parents about genetic abnormalities identified during cord blood testing. Informed consent should be obtained before the onset of active labor and before cord blood collection.
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).
Additional ethical concerns about umbilical cord blood banking involve the timing of clamping the umbilical cord after birth. Overall, the issue of when to clamp and cut the umbilical cord is controversial. There is no consensus on how early or how late in the birthing process the umbilical cord ought to be clamped and cut, although the cord obviously still provides nourishment and removes waste until it is clamped or spontaneously stops pulsing (Lothian & DeVries, 2010). However, some practitioners might clamp the umbilical cord early in an effort to maximize the amount of cord blood obtained for banking, and thus “short change” the child and allow the infant to become anemic (Drew, 2005).
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.
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.
Initially, cord blood stem cell transplantation using allogeneic umbilical cord blood was performed in relatively small children, because the cell dose per weight of recipient was shown to be important.19,20 However, older children, adolescents, and adults have benefited from unrelated allogeneic umbilical cord blood transplantation.34,55–61 Because of the relationship between cell dose per recipient weight and transplant outcome, the number of cord blood cells needed for marrow reconstitution in older children or young adults is much larger than that needed when cord blood is used for transplantation in small children. Cord blood transplants using multiple cryopreserved units from separate donors have been performed successfully in adults, and the approach is currently under investigation as a strategy to increase the dose of cells for transplantation in a single recipient.62 Cord blood is collected in observance of good obstetric and pediatric practice.45
Four main types of physical conditions are treated with stem cell transplants: cancers, blood disorders, congenital metabolic disorders, and immunodeficiencies (see Table 1). Examples of cancers that are treated with stem cells are both lymphoma and leukemia. Nonmalignant hemologic disorders also account for a fair share of the recipients of stem cells. Examples of these blood disorders are various types of anemias, such as sickle-cell anemia and Fanconi’s anemia (the first disorder treated with umbilical cord blood stem cells). Stem cells have also been used to treat various metabolic disorders, such as adrenoleukodystrophy. The fourth major category of uses for stem cells is in treating immunodeficiencies, such as Duncan’s disease or adenosine deaminase deficiency (Drew, 2005; Moise, 2005).
Gluckman E, Broxmeyer HA, Auerbach AD, et al. Hematopoietic reconstitution in a patient with Fanconi’s anemia by means of umbilical-cord blood from an HLA-identical sibling. N Engl J Med.1989;321 :1174– 1178
Finally, there is a significant lack of regulation for umbilical cord blood banking. The lack of quality control, in turn, affects the quality of the specimen available for transplant. Some cord blood banks have submitted to voluntary accreditation, but the process of accreditation varies from bank to bank, whether public or private (McGuckin & Forraz, 2008; Moise, 2005).
The “cell recovery rate” is often used to compare processing methods. Expressed as a percentage, the cell recovery rate tells you how many cells are retrieved from the original cord blood collection, once plasma has been removed and red blood cells have been reduced or removed. It is expected that some cells will be lost during processing, and most processing methods have published cell recovery rates between 80%—99%
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.
Compare costs and services for saving umbilical cord blood, cord tissue, and placenta tissue stem cells. Americord’s® highest quality cord blood banking, friendly customer service, and affordable pricing have made us a leader in the industry.
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.
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
If you do decide to bank your baby’s cord blood, there’s one more thing to keep in mind: It’s best not to make it a last-minute decision. You should coordinate with the bank before your baby is born so nothing is left to chance.
Publicly banking your baby’s cord blood is a wonderful gift. Unfortunately, however, your chance of donating your baby’s cord blood is very low due to the regional and financial constraints of public cord blood banks. It is estimated that cord blood from less than 3% of all U.S. births can be collected and stored by the public banks. We support any efforts to increase the resources available for public banking.
CorCell has almost 20 years of experience banking cord blood, cord tissue and DNA. The company is one of the first licensed private cord blood programs in the United States and has its own AABB-accredited laboratory.
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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.
Yes, if you have any sick children who could benefit from umbilical cord blood. Public banks such as Carolinas Cord Bank at Duke University and private banks such as FamilyCord in Los Angeles offer programs in which the bank will assist with cord blood processing and storage if your baby has a biological sibling with certain diseases. FamilyCord will provide free cord blood storage for one year. See a list of banks with these programs at parentsguidecordblood.org/help.php.
With umbilical cord blood harvesting, the harvested cord blood does not come from the newborn baby itself; instead, the cord blood is harvested from the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after birth. Umbilical cord blood is never harvested from either mother or child, but only from the unused blood in the umbilical cord, which would otherwise be discarded waste. The harvesting procedure takes only a few minutes and there is zero danger to either the parent or the baby.
You’ve just visited the doctor and the good news is that you’re going to have a baby and everything looks good. Thirty years ago, your doctor may have given you a baby book and information about products that sponsors want you to buy for your new addition. Today, along with pretty much the same materials, you’ll be asked to consider saving the blood of your newborn that’s left over in the umbilical cord and placenta after the delivery. Another big decision, and possibly a costly one.
That may sound expensive, but the cost of processing cord blood and storing it in medical freezers for years on end is considerable. Even public cord blood banks say the initial collection, processing, and storage cost them about $1,500 per unit of cord blood.
4. If your family, especially your children, are of mixed ethnic background, it may be impossible to find an adult bone marrow donor who is a perfect match. In that event, cord blood from even a partially matched sibling would be invaluable if a stem cell transplant is necessary.
The cord blood of your baby is an abundant source of stem cells that are genetically related to your baby and your family. Stem cells are dominant cells in the way they contribute to the development of all tissues, organs, and systems in the body.
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.
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.
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.