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Stem cells’ role is critical for regenerative medicine. A stem cell is a special type of cell because it is the basis for all the other cells in our bodies. Stem cells have the ability to develop into one of many different types of cells. This process of a stem cell becoming a specific type of cell like a skin cell, blood cell or bone cell is known as differentiation. The other unique ability of stem cells is to replicate quickly. Combined, these abilities can quickly replenish different types of cells, making stem cells a driving factor or major enhancement in the healing process.
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.
Donating to research is another alternative. In some areas, you may be able to donate your newborn’s cord blood stem cells to a university or biotech firm. There are also now several private banks who offer to bank your baby’s cord blood as a donation, but they will typically sell it to a research facility. Cord Blood Options will be compiling additional data for this section in the near future.
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.
Families with a history of diseases can greatly benefit from cord blood banking, as an insurance policy against possible future diseases. However, cord blood banking is expensive, can’t be used to treat everything, and your child may not even need it—at private cord blood banks, most is eventually discarded. Lastly, you should be aware that if the child develops certain genetic diseases, the cord blood will have the same genetic flaws.
Cord tissue contains a special type of stem cell that has the potential to treat injuries and diseases affecting cartilage, muscle, and nerve cells.19 Since 2007 there have been about 150 clinical trials that have used cord tissue stem cells in human patients.
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]
Private (commercial) cord banks will store the donated blood for use by the donor and family members only. They can be expensive. These banks charge a fee for processing and an annual fee for storage.
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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.
Our annual storage fee is due every year on the birth date of the child and covers the cost of storage until the following birthday. The fee is the same $150 for both our standard and our premium cord blood services. The annual cord tissue storage fee is an additional $150.
Tracey Dones of Hicksville, N.Y., paid to bank her son Anthony’s cord blood. But four months after he was born, Anthony was diagnosed with osteopetrosis, a rare disease that causes the body to produce excess bone, leads to blindness, and can be fatal if left untreated.
When it comes to raising kids, good advice and strong evidence can be hard to come by. The Growth Curve blog brings an accessible and metered approach to new studies and popular parenting topics. Growth Curve is a blog of Science News, which gives readers a concise overview of the most important science news from all fields and applications of science and technology.
As a result of these advances, it is not unreasonable to hope that cord blood may eventually be used to treat a wider variety of auto-immune and degenerative diseases than is currently being done. If so, (and there are solid indications by researchers that this indeed is the case), it makes perfect sense to consider private cord blood banking.
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.
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.
The stem cells from your baby’s cord blood may also be effective in treating certain diseases or conditions of a parent or sibling. Cord blood stem cells have similar ability to treat disease as bone marrow but with significantly less rejection.
When researching cord blood banks, make sure they’re registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and comply with FDA regulations including current good tissue practice regulations, donor screening and testing for infectious diseases. Check for accreditations with American Association of Blood Banks or the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy. Other factors to consider are the bank’s shipping and delivery methods, clinical experience, processing options, payments and costs.
The most obvious argument against is that the odds of needing cord blood for medical treatment is very, very slim. Below is a news release on a policy published in the July,1999 issue of Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
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.
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.
Family Cord, located in Los Angeles, has a high-quality lab, a top rating from the Better Business Bureau, and accreditation from AABB; it’s also been in business since 1997. Family Cord is one of the few banks that will also cover the cost of cord blood banking for the first year (there’s an annual fee after the first year) in cases where a baby has a sick sibling or another family member who could benefit from the cord blood.
Parents have the option to privately store their newborn’s cord blood stem cells. There are now over a dozen private cord blood banks, and more open every year. Some have their own labs, while others contract with a lab. Cord blood stem cell banking is not a regulated industry; there are no certifications or licensing requirements to open a cord blood bank. Several banks are accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks. Please keep in mind there is a big difference between being accredited by the AABB and being a member of the AABB. To be accredited, the lab must follow strict standards and be inspected by the association.
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.
Cord blood–banking recruitment practices should be developed with an awareness of the possible emotional vulnerability of pregnant women and their families and friends. Efforts should be made to minimize the effect of this vulnerability on cord blood–banking decisions.
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.
Another advantage of using umbilical cord blood stem cells is the decreased risk of the transmission of infectious disease. This particular advantage is partly because umbilical cord blood is almost never contaminated by Epstein-Barr virus or cytomegalovirus (Drew, 2005; Gonzalez-Ryan et al., 2000). Additionally, the processing of cord blood includes collecting data on the history of infection during the mother’s pregnancy. For example, if the pregnant woman has a history of group B streptococcus, active genital herpes, or prolonged rupture of membranes and chorioamnionitis, umbilical cord blood is not saved. Generally, samples of the mother’s blood are also drawn to test for infectious diseases, such as hepatitis, human immunodeficiency virus, and syphilis (Moise, 2005). Furthermore, after the cord blood units are collected, they are screened for disease, and any units that are deemed contaminated or infected are thrown away (Gunning, 2007).
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.
Physicians or other professionals who recruit pregnant women and their families for for-profit placental cord blood stem cell banking should disclose any financial interest or other potential conflict of interest they have in the procedure to their patients.
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.
1. As today’s children grow up and some of them develop cancer as adults, autologous (self) cord blood transplants will become more commonly used. Pediatric cancers and adult cancers are completely different diseases at the cellular level (to learn more about cancer visit the website of the National Cancer Institute). While pediatric cancer patients rarely receive autologous transplants, among adult cancer patients the autologous transplants are more common than transplants from donors.
Accurate information about the potential benefits and limitations of allogeneic and autologous cord blood banking and transplantation should be provided. Parents should be informed that autologous cord blood would not be used as a stem cell source if the donor developed leukemia later in life. Parents should recognize that there are no scientific data to support the claim that autologous cord blood is a tissue source proven to be of value for regenerative medical purposes. The current standard uses of cord blood transplantation are listed in Table 1.
Prices subject to change until they are paid. Fees apply to single-birth, U.S. customers only. Cancellation fees may apply. All major credit cards accepted. Payment plans cover first-year fees only; future annual storage fees are not included. If not paying by credit/debit card, total first year fees are due at the time of enrollment.