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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.
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.
Cord blood banking is not always cheap. It’s completely free to donate blood to a public cord blood bank, but private banks charge $1,400 to $2,300 for collecting, testing, and registering, plus an annual $95 to $125 storing fee.
Patients with leukemia, lymphoma, or certain inherited metabolic or immune system disorders have diseased blood-forming cells. For some patients, an umbilical cord blood or bone marrow transplant (also called a BMT) may be their best treatment option.
In the past years, there have been dramatic medical advances in the arena of stem cell research, and more discoveries are announced practically every month. Many doctors and researchers see great potential in the use of stem cells to reverse or cure many severe, life-threatening diseases. With these facts in mind, many parents are choosing to preserve the stems cells found in umbilical cord blood after birth. There are no health risks in doing so. The primary risk is that the $100 yearly fee for storage will be wasted in the event that the stem cells are never needed.
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.
6. Lou Gehrig’s disease. There’s hope that stem cells could help those with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. The crippling disease comes with a grim prognosis: Many die within three to five years of diagnosis, as their bodies progressively damage muscle-controlling motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Scientists are exploring ways to coax stem cells into becoming motor neurons that could be transplanted into ALS patients, restoring their ability to move.
We chose the site of our lab for one reason in particular: safety. As one of the safest cities in the US, Tucson ensures our families’ samples will be protected from natural disaster. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, could interrupt consistent long-term storage of 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 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.
Your child may never need it. Stem cell-rich cord blood can be used to treat a range of diseases, but Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, estimates that there’s only a 1 in 217 chance that your child will ever need a stem cell transplant with cord blood (or bone marrow). This is particularly true if the child doesn’t have a family history of diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, or sickle cell anemia. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (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 choose to bank cord blood, the AAP recommends public cord blood banking (instead of private) to cut down on expenditures.
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.
RENECE WALLER-WISE is a licensed clinical nurse specialist and childbirth educator at Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan, Alabama. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Troy University in Troy, Alabama.
There are two main types of cord blood banks: public and private. Public cord blood banks are usually nonprofit companies that store your donated cord blood for free, to be used for any sick child in another family or for research purposes, so accessing and using your own cord blood is not guaranteed. Private cord blood banks are companies that require a registration fee (plus annual storage fees) for your cord blood, but it is saved specifically for your own family, so you’ll have ready access to it.
The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. The purpose of this is to help with education and create better conversations between patients and their healthcare providers.
The stored blood can’t always be used, even if the person develops a disease later on, because if the disease was caused by a genetic mutation, it would also be in the stem cells. Current research says the stored blood may only be useful for 15 years.
The standard used to identify these cord blood banks was the number of cord blood and cord tissue units stored by each company. The purpose of this analysis is to compare pricing and services among the largest cord blood banks within the U.S., the most mature cord blood banking market in the world. These three industry giants also represent several of the largest cord blood banks worldwide.
Anak S, Saribeyoglu ET, Bilgen H, et al. Allogeneic versus autologous versus peripheral stem cell transplantation in CR1 pediatric AML patients: a single center experience. Pediatr Blood Cancer.2005;44 :654– 659
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.
Cord blood is the fastest growing source of stem cells in pediatric transplants, and ongoing research indicates that we’ve only just begun to harness the healing power of these amazing cells.3, 15 By collaborating with some of the country’s leading hospitals and research centers, ViaCord is helping to advance critical research in cord blood stem cell therapy and to unlock the promise of cord tissue stem 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.
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:
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta following birth. This blood is usually discarded. However, cord blood banking utilizes facilities to store and preserve a baby’s cord blood. If you are considering storing your baby’s cord blood, make sure to use a cord blood bank accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), like Viacord.