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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.
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.
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).
To begin a discussion of umbilical cord blood banking, it must first be understood that the component from the blood that is salvaged is the stem cells. Stem cells are unspecialized cells that are the basis of all tissue and organ cells of the body. There are three main sources of stem cells in humans: embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, and umbilical cord stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are generally used in research but not in clinical practice. Adult stem cells are found in various locations in the human body, but they are most commonly found in bone marrow (McGuckin & Forraz, 2008). Over the years, transplants of bone marrow stem cells have been used clinically to treat disease processes in which stem cells are beneficial. Umbilical cord blood stem cells were historically considered a waste product of the birthing process but are now known to have up to 10 times more stem cells than adult bone marrow (Gunning, 2007).
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.
At the end of a recent childbirth class, I found two couples engaged in a lengthy discussion. In the course of the conversation, both couples agreed that their goal was to do the best things for their pregnancy and birth. They were attending childbirth classes to learn how to support normal birth. They each were planning to attend breastfeeding classes. As their conversation continued, the first couple described their decision to bank the umbilical cord blood of their yet unborn daughter. They were adamant that their decision was the best action for them because they had a strong family history of myasthenia gravis. They stated that they had researched the issue by talking to several different cord blood banks, and they had decided on one particular bank because it processed the cord blood without the use of the anticoagulant drug, heparin. The couple went on to parrot back the information that the cord blood bank had told them. It was evident that the first couple wanted what was best for their yet unborn child.
Kasamon YL, Jones RJ, Piantadosi S, et al. High-dose therapy and blood or marrow transplantation for non-Hodgkin lymphoma with central nervous system involvement. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant.2005;11 :93– 100
One of the first things I learned is that the couples in my childbirth class were not unique. In fact, research indicates that most pregnant women are underinformed about the issue of cord blood banking (Fox et al., 2007). While reviewing the literature on cord blood banking, I also found that the information available for nurses and childbirth educators often comes from private cord blood banks or their employees (Cord Blood Registry, 2009; Wolf, 1998, 1999), thus introducing the chance of bias.
To most people, the issue comes down to money. If you had unlimited money, you would spend a few thousand to even miniscually increase the chance of your child enjoying good health. However, since you probably don’t have unlimited money, you will have to decide how to best spend and save for your children’s future. If you invested the Viacord fee of $1550 plus $150 for the courier at your child’s birth in the stock market, you would have $12,210 by the time he turned 21. That would certainly help pay for college or even his medical insurance after he graduated from college. The odds are that your child will need a college education more than an autologous bone marrow transplant. So if you have to choose between one or the other, make the right choice by saving the money for his future.
Direct-donation umbilical cord blood banks function as an amalgamation of public and private banks. Direct-donation banks collect cord blood without charging fees. In addition, they accept autogenous donations and reserve them only for the family, especially for a family whose infant has a sibling with a disorder that may be treated with umbilical cord blood stem cells (Moise, 2005).
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
So what are your options? You have three choices. One is to store the cord blood with a private company at a cost to you ranging from $1,500 to $2,500 and an annual storage fee in the ballpark of $125. Secondly, you can donate the cord blood to a public bank, if there is one working with your hospital, and your doctor is on board with the idea. There are also public banks that accept mail-in donations, if you register during your second trimester and your doctor is willing to take a short training class on-line. Zero cost to you. The third option is to do nothing and have the cord blood, umbilical cord, and placenta destroyed as medical waste.
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.
The policy also points out that if cord clamping is done too soon after birth, the infant may be deprived of a placental blood transfusion, resulting in lower blood volume and increased risk for anemia later in life.
For families that choose to bank cord blood, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends public cord blood banking. Estimates vary, but the chances of a child having a stem cell transplant, with either bone marrow or cord blood, are 1 in 217 over a lifetime. Although the 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 decide on cord blood banking, the AAP recommends public cord blood banking (instead of private) to cut down on costs. If you donate cord blood and your child eventually needs it, you can get it back as long as it hasn’t been discarded or used.
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.
All cord blood is screened and tested. Whether you use a public or private bank, you’ll still need to be tested for various infections (such as hepatitis and HIV). If tests come back positive for disease or infection, you will not be able to store your cord blood.
Finally, there is a significant lack of regulation for umbilical cord blood banking. The lack of quality control, in turn, affects the quality of the specimen available for transplant. Some cord blood banks have submitted to voluntary accreditation, but the process of accreditation varies from bank to bank, whether public or private (McGuckin & Forraz, 2008; Moise, 2005).
Initially, cord blood stem cell transplantation using allogeneic umbilical cord blood was performed in relatively small children, because the cell dose per weight of recipient was shown to be important.19,20 However, older children, adolescents, and adults have benefited from unrelated allogeneic umbilical cord blood transplantation.34,55–61 Because of the relationship between cell dose per recipient weight and transplant outcome, the number of cord blood cells needed for marrow reconstitution in older children or young adults is much larger than that needed when cord blood is used for transplantation in small children. Cord blood transplants using multiple cryopreserved units from separate donors have been performed successfully in adults, and the approach is currently under investigation as a strategy to increase the dose of cells for transplantation in a single recipient.62 Cord blood is collected in observance of good obstetric and pediatric practice.45
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.
After injections with their own umbilical cord blood, 63 children with cerebral palsy improved on motor skills, on average. And a clinical trial to see whether cord blood transplants improve symptoms of children with autism spectrum disorder should wrap up in the summer of 2018, says pediatric researcher and clinician Joanne Kurtzberg of Duke University, who helped establish a not-for-profit umbilical cord bank in North Carolina. (A small but optimistic pilot study has already been completed.)
Yes, if you have any sick children who could benefit from umbilical cord blood. Public banks such as Carolinas Cord Bank at Duke University and private banks such as FamilyCord in Los Angeles offer programs in which the bank will assist with cord blood processing and storage if your baby has a biological sibling with certain diseases. FamilyCord will provide free cord blood storage for one year. See a list of banks with these programs at parentsguidecordblood.org/help.php.
Takahashi S, Iseki T, Ooi J, et al. Single-institute comparative analysis of unrelated bone marrow transplantation and cord blood transplantation for adult patients with hematologic malignancies. Blood.2004;104 :3813– 3820
Families should seriously pursue public banking, donation for research, or private banking instead of discarding their baby’s umbilical cord blood. We aim to be nonpartisan in our dissemination of information, but we believe that discarding your baby’s cord blood is a waste of a once-in-a-lifetime valuable resource.
That may sound expensive, but the cost of processing cord blood and storing it in medical freezers for years on end is considerable. Even public cord blood banks say the initial collection, processing, and storage cost them about $1,500 per unit of cord blood.
Lamaze International has created a continuing education home study based on this article. Visit the Lamaze Web site (www.lamaze.org) for detailed instructions regarding completion and submission of this home study module for Lamaze contact hours.
The second couple listened intently to the conversation, interjecting that they hadn’t considered cord blood banking, and they looked toward me. They started asking the other couple, and me, many questions about cord blood banking. What is the cost? How is it done? What are the uses of cord blood? Is it only used to treat the baby later in life? Will cord blood treat myasthenia gravis? And finally, is it worth the time, effort, and money to invest in cord blood banking?
Using their banked cord blood stem cells, ViaCord families participate in ongoing IND approved research including autism, cerebral palsy, & brain injury. Over 150 families have participated in ongoing research.
Cord blood banking means preserving the newborn stem cells found in the blood of the umbilical cord and the placenta. After a baby is born, and even after delayed cord clamping, there is blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta that holds valuable newborn stem cells. Parents have a choice between donating cord blood to a public bank for free, or paying to store it for their family in a private bank. Cord blood banking includes the whole process from collection through storage of newborn stem cells for future medical purposes.
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.
Cord blood banking takes blood from the umbilical cord at the time of birth, and donates it to a public blood bank, or stores it in a private one. Since this blood is so rich in stem cells, which have the potential to become any human cell, it could someday be used as a treatment for the child or their family members.
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.