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Ballen K., Broxmeyer H. E., McCullough J., Piaciabello W., Rebulla P., Verfaillie C. M., & Wagner J. E. (2001). Current status of cord blood banking and transplantation in the United States and Europe. Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation, 7(12), 635–645 [PubMed]
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.
Cord tissue use is still in early research stages, and there is no guarantee that treatments using cord tissue will be available in the future. Cord tissue is stored whole. Additional processing prior to use will be required to extract and prepare any of the multiple cell types from cryopreserved cord tissue. Cbr Systems, Inc.’s activities for New York State residents are limited to collection of umbilical cord tissue and long-term storage of umbilical cord–derived stem cells. Cbr Systems, Inc.’s possession of a New York State license for such collection and long-term storage does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of these cells.
There are no health risks related to cord blood collection. Cord blood is retrieved from the umbilical cord after it has been cut, thus preventing any pain, discomfort, or harm. This process is completely safe.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP, 2007) states that the use of banked umbilical cord blood as “biologic insurance” is unwarranted. The AAP also notes that many of the claims of private cord blood banks are unfounded. Unlike ACOG, the AAP recommends cord blood collection and banking for all families; however, their distinction is that all cord blood should be banked in public banks for use by the general population. In one study, the researchers reported that when pediatric transplant specialists were surveyed, overall, they did not recommend private cord blood banking (Thornley et al., 2009). The AAP recommends private cord blood banking only if a full sibling has a medical diagnosis for which stem cells are currently being used for treatment.
Frances Verter, PhD, founded the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood in 1998 and has been a Scientific Advisor to Community Blood Services since 2007. In 2011 the NMDP presented her with their Lifeline Award in recognition of her efforts to improve public education about cord blood donation.
CBR’s quality control team performs over 5 million sample checks per year which includes 3 million temperature checks, 20,000 environmental sterility tests, and 95 control checks on each sample to ensure processes are working correctly so that your family’s stem cells are kept protected. At CBR we take the safe storage of your stem cells seriously.
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.
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.
A “clinical trial” is a study in human patients for an emerging therapy that has not been adopted as standard therapy. This website has pages that enable patients to search worldwide for currently recruiting clinical trials with ether cord blood or umbilical cord tissue MSC. The table below checks off all diagnoses that have ever been treated in clinical trials with cord blood or cord tissue, regardless of whether the trials are still open.
A courier collection service. Private banks have a person pick up your donated cord blood, which helps ensure that it arrives at your chosen bank quickly and doesn’t get lost along the way, and that the temperature will remain consistent enough to be accepted at the lab. (Public banks usually send an insulated kit for you to preserve and mail the cord blood.)
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.
Researchers continue to investigate new applications of stem cells. Ballen (2006) reported on studies examining the use of stem cells for treating autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, systemic sclerosis, and multiple sclerosis. Gunning (2007) reported on stem cell research for regenerative uses for heart attacks, stroke, spinal cord injury, diabetes, liver injury, and even traumatic brain injury. However, Gunning also noted that these regenerative uses for stem cells are purely in the research stage and, so far, no tangible evidence supports any clinical uses beyond the diseases that are currently being treated.
The cord blood collection process is simple, safe, and painless. The process usually takes no longer than five minutes. Cord blood collection does not interfere with delivery and is possible with both vaginal and cesarean deliveries.
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.
Cord blood is extracted from a newborn’s umbilical cord immediately after birth. It contains stem cells, which can be used to treat hemotopoietic and genetic disorders, like certain blood or immune diseases.
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.
Rubinstein P, Dobrila L, Rosenfield RE, et al. Processing and cryopreservation of placental/umbilical cord blood for unrelated bone marrow reconstitution. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1995;92 :10119– 10122
Not all moms can donate their cord blood. Moms who are not eligible are those who: are younger than 18 years old (in most states), have been treated for cancer or have received chemotherapy for another illness, have had malaria in the last three years, or have been treated for a blood disease such as HIV or hepatitis. It’s also not possible to donate cord blood if a mom has delivered her baby prematurely (there may not be enough blood to collect) or delivered multiples (but it’s possible to bank your cord blood of multiples privately).
For much of pregnancy, the umbilical cord is the lifeline of a fetus, tethering it to the placenta. Snaking through the nearly 2-feet-long cord, there’s a vein ferrying nutrients and oxygen from mom’s blood (via the placenta), plus two arteries carrying oxygen- and nutrient-depleted blood from the fetus back to mom. Because mother’s blood and fetal blood don’t actually mix much, the blood in the placenta and umbilical cord at birth belongs mainly to the fetus.
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.
FACT accredited: Cord blood companies that are FACT accredited have been evaluated by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy, and they’re found to have met the foundation’s standards of operation.
Cairo MS, Wagner EL, Fraser J, et al. Characterization of banked umbilical cord blood hematopoietic progenitor cells and lymphocyte subsets and correlation with ethnicity, birth weight, sex, and type of delivery: a Cord Blood Transplantation (COBLT) Study report. Transfusion.2005;45 :856– 866
Karanes C, Confer D, Walker T, Askren A, Keller C. Unrelated donor stem cell transplantation: the role of the National Marrow Donor Program. Oncology (Williston Park).2003;17 :1036– 1068, 1043–104, 1164–1167
Some researchers suspect that umbilical cord blood contains other cells that may have therapeutic effects beyond the blood. Specialized immune cells may be able to tweak brain function, for instance. Trials around the world are studying umbilical cord blood’s capabilities in a wide range of diseases (see Table 2 here): Cerebral palsy, autism, diabetes and lupus are currently under investigation. The cells are even being tested for an ameliorating role in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.