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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).
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.
You can also support your local research and academic institutions that are accepting cord blood donations. Stem cell research has become a provocative debate because of the ethical disagreements around embryonic stem cells. UCB avoids the debate entirely while still providing valuable stem cells in the quest to cure disease and mitigate human suffering.
Lifebank USA is another private bank, located in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey, that’s accredited by the AABB. What sets this bank apart from the others: it’s one of the few banks that store umbilical cord blood and placenta blood (this is done for free). Stem cells from placenta tissue can turn into skeletal tissue types such as bone, cartilage, fat tissue, and connective tissue, whereas cells from cord blood turn into different types of blood cells.
Lamaze International (2010) does not have a policy specific to umbilical cord blood banking; however, the organization has a specific policy that prohibits advertising of private cord blood banks in any Lamaze media vehicle. This policy was most recently updated and revised in July 2010. In addition, in their book, The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth With Confidence, Lothian and DeVries (2010) reinforce the AAP’s position that expectant families are vulnerable to the marketing strategies of private cord blood banks. The authors go on to say that expectant parents should know that banking umbilical cord blood does not guarantee a cure. Likewise, there is no guarantee that a private umbilical cord blood bank will be able to adequately preserve the cord blood until a time when it is needed. One potential reason for being unable to preserve the cord blood is that the private cord blood bank could go out of business.
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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.
Certain public cord blood banks let you mail in your cord blood. You have to decide before the birth if you want to donate your cord blood. If the hospital where you’re delivering doesn’t accept donations, you can contact a lab that offers a mail-in delivery program. After you’ve passed the lab’s screening process, they’ll send you a kit that you can use to package your blood and mail it in, explains Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation (parentsguidecordblood.org), a nonprofit dedicated to educating parents about cord blood donation and cord blood therapists.
I had some information about the very basics of umbilical cord blood banking, but I did not have the answers to most of the second couple’s questions. The first couple had some of the answers, but based on the limited knowledge I had, I felt that the information that the first couple shared was simply the information that the cord blood bank had supplied. I suspected that the cord blood bank had only shared information that was in its best interest to gain another customer. Therefore, my suspicions put me on a path to learn more about umbilical cord blood and, thus, cord blood banking and cord blood transplants.
Currently, cord blood stem cells have been approved by the FDA in the treatment nearly 80 diseases. In addition to these approved regenerative therapies, there are close to 350 clinical trials underway investigating the use of umbilical cord blood and umbilical cord tissue for stem cell transplantation, and this number promises to steadily increase. Cord blood stem cells are approved for numerous types of malignancies, anemias, inherited metabolic disorders and deficiencies of the immune system. The majority of cord blood transplants to date have been performed in patients younger than 18 years; however, advancements in regenerative medicine show promise for all ages. See all the diseases currently being treated.
So, unfortunately, depending on where you live your overall physical and mental health will vary significantly. Of course, through the right breathing, meditations, and positive thinking we can very much improve our health too, but not many people can or are willing to do that.
Cord Blood Registry is a cord blood storage company that collects, processes and stores stem cells to help families with medical needs later in life. Founded in 1992, it is the world’s largest newborn stem cell company.
* Disclaimer: Banking cord blood does not guarantee that treatment will work and only a doctor can determine when it can be used. Cord tissue stem cells are not approved for use in treatment, but research is ongoing.
Osteopetrosis is a genetic disease, so this means that doctors could use a sibling’s cord blood cells to treat Anthony, but they cannot use his own cells because the disease is in every cell in his body. In fact, a majority of the diseases listed in private banking firms’ marketing material as treatable with stem cells are genetic diseases.
Cord blood transplantation has been shown to be curative in patients with a variety of serious diseases. Physicians should be familiar with the rationale for cord blood banking and with the types of cord blood–banking programs available. Physicians consulted by prospective parents about cord blood banking can provide the following information:
4. Parkinson’s disease. Stem cells may also help those who suffer from Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disorder that can cause tremors, stiffness, and other movement and speech problems. Studies show that embryonic stem cells can give rise to the dopamine-making neurons that Parkinson’s patients lack. When transplanted into rodents with a Parkinson’s-like disorder, those replacement brain cells improved the animals’ motor function.
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.
To save money, public banks will not even process a cord blood donation unless they know in advance that they are going to keep it. When the collection first arrives at the lab, it is passed through a cell counting machine. Only collections that have at least 900 million nucleated cells are kept. As a result, over 60%-80% of cord blood donations are discarded. The public bank must absorb the expense of the collection kit and delivery charges for discarded blood; typically $100 per unit.
Despite the benefits of using umbilical cord blood stem cells for transplant, the process also has some disadvantages (see Table 3). For stem cell transplants to be successful, measurable signs of engraftment must occur. Engraftment is the opposite of rejection and indicates that the stem cell transplant is “working.” Two measurable signs of engraftment are the recovery of both neutrophil (a type of white blood cell) and platelet (a clotting factor) production. These two clinical signs of recovery take longer to occur in umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants than in bone marrow stem cell transplants. In other words, the lab values for white blood cell production and platelet production take longer to increase after umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants than after bone marrow stem cell transplants (Hess, 1997; Moise, 2005).
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.
Umbilical cord blood can save lives. Cord blood is rich in stem cells that can morph into all sorts of blood cells, which can be used to treat diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and certain cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. There are a few ways for transplant patients to get blood cells (umbilical and placenta, bone marrow, peripheral/circulation), but cord blood is easier to match with patients, and because it is gathered during birth from the umbilical cord, it’s a painless procedure.
Another important consideration for autologous use is that, currently, it is unknown how long umbilical cord blood will maintain its usefulness while frozen. Research indicates that cord blood stem cells can be maintained up to 15 years, but it is unknown if the cells would be preserved over the entire lifetime of a person (Ballen et al., 2001; Hess, 1997). Furthermore, financial costs are associated with maintaining the cord blood over time. Kaimal, Smith, Laros, Caughey, and Cheng (2009) studied the cost-effectiveness of private umbilical cord blood banking for autologous use and concluded that it was not cost-effective in most instances because the chances that it would be used are extremely small.
There are many “what if” situations that we all consider in our life. One of the most serious is “What if a child or other family member was to become seriously ill?” Cord Blood Banking clinics have been growing exponentially in response to this common fear. But should you ever find yourself in this dilemma, what are the pros and cons of using cord blood cells versus other stem cell-related treatments? This article will take a comparative look at some of the key benefits and difficulties as well as the financial costs of cord blood banking.
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
9. Sickle cell anemia. Stem cell researchers are exploring ways to correct numerous blood disorders, including sickle cell anemia. Mice have been cured of the sometimes-deadly condition after receiving transfusions of stem cells made from their own skin cells.
Most stored cord blood is discarded. At public cord blood banks, a unit of stored cord blood has a greater chance of being used to help a sick child or used toward stem cell research. Private cord blood banks, on the other hand, eventually throw away blood that a family no longer wants to store or use.
Some parents-to-be are sold on the advertising that banking their child’s cord blood could potentially treat an array of diseases the child, or his siblings, could encounter in their lives. Other parents-to-be may find all the promises too good to be true.
Ozkaynak MF, Sandoval C, Levendoglu-Tugal O, Jayabose S. A pilot trial of tandem autologous peripheral blood progenitor cell transplantation following high-dose thiotepa and carboplatin in children with poor-risk central nervous system tumors. Pediatr Hematol Oncol.2004;21 :635– 645
Bunin N, Aplenc R, Iannone R, et al. Unrelated donor bone marrow transplantation for children with severe aplastic anemia: minimal GVHD and durable engraftment with partial T cell depletion. Bone Marrow Transplant.2005;35 :369– 373
A number of private for-profit companies have been established that encourage parents to bank their children’s cord blood for their own autologous use or for directed donor allogeneic use for a family member should the need arise. Parents have been encouraged to bank their infants’ cord blood as a form of “biological insurance.” Physicians, employees, and/or consultants of such companies may have potential conflicts of interest in recruiting patients because of their own financial gain. Annual disclosure of the financial interest and potential conflicts of interest must be made to institutional review boards that are charged with the responsibility of mitigation of these disclosures and risks. Families may be vulnerable to the emotional effects of marketing for cord blood banking 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 cord blood stem cells in the future. The range of available estimates is from 1 in 1000 to more than 1 in 200000.51 The potential for children needing their own cord blood stem cells for future autologous use is controversial presently.51 There also is no evidence of the safety or effectiveness of autologous cord blood stem cell transplantation for the treatment of malignant neoplasms.51 Indeed, there is evidence demonstrating the presence of DNA mutations in cord blood obtained from children who subsequently develop leukemia.52 Thus, an autologous cord blood transplantation might even be contraindicated in the treatment of a child who develops leukemia.
These are diseases for which transplants of blood-forming stem cells (Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplants, HSCT) are a standard treatment. For some diseases they are the only therapy, and in other diseases they are only employed when front-line therapies have failed or the disease is very aggressive. The lists below include ALL therapies that use blood-forming stem cells, without distinction as to whether the stem cells were extracted from bone marrow, peripheral blood, or cord blood.
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.
There are three types of umbilical cord blood banks: private, public, and direct-donation banks. The private bank is a commercial, for-profit entity that often advertises directly to expectant parents. These banks are designed for the sole use of the families who have saved the cord blood. Private banks charge an initial fee for collection and processing and, then, a yearly fee to maintain the specimen. Another fee is often charged when a sample is removed for testing or treatment (Moise, 2005).