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Back in the 1980s, umbilical cord blood caught the attention of researchers who suspected that the often-discarded tissue could be a valuable source of shape-shifting stem cells. These cells, which can become several different types of blood cells, are similar to the specialized stem cells found in bone marrow that can churn out new blood cells. Such stem cells are found in adult blood, too, but not as abundantly.
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.
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Umbilical cord blood units are made available for research studies intended to improve patient outcomes, as stated in the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005, Public Law 109-129, and the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act of 2010, Public Law 111-264.
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.
All cord blood banks in the US are required to register with Food and Drug Administration. To ensure safety, cord blood banks must comply with FDA regulations, including current good tissue practice regulations, donor screening and testing for infectious diseases, including HIV I & II (the virus that causes AIDS), Hepatitis B & C, which can cause liver disease, Cytomegalovirus (CMV) a virus that can lead to pneumonia, Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV) 1 & 2, which can suppress the immune system, West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, Treponema pallidum (the bacterium that can cause syphilis) and Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), a rare virus that can cause brain disease. Since 2011, the FDA has required public cord blood banks to obtain a license under a Biologics License Application.
“Processing” refers to separating the important components of the whole cord blood before cryopreservation. There are many methods used to process cord blood that can achieve the same goal: storing the important cells for potential future use. However, it’s important to point out some differences between methods:
There are several advantages of using umbilical cord blood stem cells over bone marrow stem cells for transplants (see Table 2). The first advantage is that umbilical cord blood is relatively easy to collect and process. Once considered a substance to be thrown away after a birth, now the cord blood can be easily saved. After it is saved and sent to a storage facility, the cord blood is quickly available for use within days to weeks after processing. In contrast, bone marrow stem cells can take much longer to find a match, collect the sample, and process. The process for bone marrow transplantation can take from weeks to months. The collection process for cord blood is not painful to either mother or child and can be done either prior to or after the delivery of the placenta (Gonzalez-Ryan, VanSyckle, Coyne, & Glover, 2000; Percer, 2009). Bone marrow transplants, on the other hand, require the donor to be hospitalized, anesthetized, and experience postcollection pain and discomfort. Thus, compared to cord blood, bone marrow collection and transplantation of stem cells are more costly (Drew, 2005; Moise, 2005).
Therapies with cord blood have gotten more successful. “The outcomes of cord blood transplants have improved over the past 10 years because researchers and clinicians have learned more about dosing cord blood, picking better matches, and giving the patient better supportive care as they go through the transplant,” says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
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 can only be collected at birth, that’s why it’s important to do your research well before your baby’s due date. Watch this short video to learn exactly how cord blood is collected, processed and stored.
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.
You need to plan ahead if you decide to store cord blood. Banks need to be notified four to six weeks before your due date if you’re interested in donating blood. Once you do decide on a public bank, those affiliated with the Be the Match registry (bethematch.org/cord) will cover the costs of collecting, processing, and storing cord blood units.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG, 2008) recommends giving pregnant women information about umbilical cord blood banking that is free from bias. According to ACOG, the chance of a child or family member needing a stem cell transplant is about 1 in 2,700. Therefore, ACOG recommends the collection and banking of cord blood only when an immediate family member has a known diagnosis for which stem cells are currently being used for treatment, and not for potential future uses.
CBR’s lab stores over 700,000 cord blood and cord tissue stem cell units. As a result of our size, we are able to continuously invest in clinical trials, product innovation, and our lab and storage facility. We own our state-of-the-art facility. And, we continually invest in quality and security. This means our families will always have access to their stem cells.
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).
The syringe or bag should be pre-labeled with a unique number that identifies your baby. Cord blood may only be collected during the first 15 minutes following the birth and should be processed by the laboratory within 48 hours of collection.
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).
Maschan AA, Trakhtman PE, Balashov DN, et al. Fludarabine, low-dose busulfan and antithymocyte globulin as conditioning for Fanconi anemia patients receiving bone marrow transplantation from HLA-compatible related donors. Bone Marrow Transplant.2004;34 :305– 307
The blood that remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta after birth is called “cord blood”. Umbilical cord blood, umbilical cord tissue, and the placenta are all very rich sources of newborn stem cells. The stem cells in the after birth are not embryonic. Most of the stem cells in cord blood are blood-forming or hematopoietic stem cells. Most of the stem cells in cord tissue and the placenta are mesenchymal stem cells.
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.
This web page was researched by Frances Verter, PhD, Alexey Bersenev, MD PhD, and Pedro Silva Couto, MSc ©2016-2018. Sources of information about established therapies were publications in the medical literature found via PubMed and Google Scholar. Sources of clinical trials were searches of ClinicalTrials.gov, Chinese Clinical Trial Registry (ChiCTR), Japan University hospital Medical Information Network Clinical Trial Registry (UMIN-CTR), Japan Medical Association Clinical Trial Registry (JMA-CTR), Clinical Research Information Service from South Korea (CRiS), EU Clinical Trials Register (EudraCT), World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP), Netherlands Trial Register (NTR), Australian New Zealand Clinical Trial Registry (ANZCTR), Clinical Trials Registry-India (CTRI), German Clinical Trials Register (DRKS), and Iranian Registry of Clinical Trials (IRCT).
Private cord blood banks store cord blood for you in case your child or someone in your immediate family needs it in the future. These private collections are owned by you and you decide how your baby’s cord blood is used. There are processing and storage fees associated with private cord blood banks.
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.
Prior to the cord blood being harvested you will need to complete a health history questionnaire, and provide a blood sample to check for disease. In most situations, you will also be required to sign a consent form to confirm your intention to have the cord blood harvested.