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Quite simply, cord blood is the remaining blood from your baby’s umbilical cord and placenta after birth. Cord blood is loaded with our “stem cells” which are origins of the body’s immune and blood system and maybe the origin of other organs and important systems in the body. Stem cells are important because they have the ability to regenerate into other types of cells in the body.
Only three to five ounces of blood is collected from each umbilical cord. This small amount is enough to treat a sick child, but not an adult, unless multiple units of matched cord blood are used, says William T. Shearer, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics and Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
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Private banking is an alternative option if you can afford the associated costs and if the family’s history suggests a higher probability of need. Families that are predisposed to certain diseases, that are ethnically mixed, or that include a family member who may need a stem cell transplant should take special care to understand the value the cells may provide.
Many public banking proponents believe that the greater good to society is to donate your baby’s cord blood stem cells to a public bank for use by someone who may need it, since the likelihood of your baby needing it is very small.
Current trials show promise for cord blood in the treatment of strokes, heart disease, diabetes and more. Umbilical cord–derived stem cells, meanwhile, are undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, sports-related injuries and various neurodegenerative diseases including ALS (known also as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and Alzheimer’s.
“This is a medical service that has to be done when your baby’s cells arrive and you certainly want them to be handled by good equipment and good technicians,” says Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to educating parents about cord blood donation and cord blood therapists. “It’s just not going to be cheap.” 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 reduce costs.
Insurance assisted payments: Some cord blood companies work with insurance companies that can help parents pay for cord blood processing and storage, particularly if one child in the family has an illness and might be able to benefit from cord blood use.
Stem cells’ role is critical for regenerative medicine. A stem cell is a special type of cell because it is the basis for all the other cells in our bodies. Stem cells have the ability to develop into one of many different types of cells. This process of a stem cell becoming a specific type of cell like a skin cell, blood cell or bone cell is known as differentiation. The other unique ability of stem cells is to replicate quickly. Combined, these abilities can quickly replenish different types of cells, making stem cells a driving factor or major enhancement in the healing process.
Both public and family cord blood banks must register with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and since Oct. 2011 public banks also need to apply for an FDA license. All cord blood banks are required by federal law to test the blood of the mother for infectious diseases. At public banks the screening is usually more extensive, similar to the tests performed when you donate blood. The typical expense to a public bank is $150 per unit.
Options for Umbilical Cord Blood Banking and Donation—As expectant parents, learn how umbilical cord blood can help others through public donation, family (private) cord blood banking, or directed donation for a biological sibling.
Bunin N, Aplenc R, Leahey A, et al. Outcomes of transplantation with partial T-cell depletion of matched or mismatched unrelated or partially matched related donor bone marrow in children and adolescents with leukemias. Bone Marrow Transplant.2005;35 :151– 158
Specializing in health and medicine, Sandra Gordon has written extensively about cord blood banking for national and regional parenting magazines. She also has written about baby products, including breast pumps, for national and regional parenting magazines, blogs and books. Her work has appeared in hundreds of publications, including Parents, Prevention, Woman’s Day and Self. Gordon also appears on TV as a baby safety and money-saving expert. She is also the author of 10 books and the founder of babyproductsmom.com, a site dedicated to helping new parents gear up safely and within their budget.
Umbilical cord blood stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells. Umbilical cord blood stem cells are collected by your ob-gyn or a nurse from the umbilical cord after you give birth (but before your placenta is delivered). Embryonic stem cells are collected when a human embryo is destroyed.
3. Heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death in the United States, and stem cells may provide some relief. Research is underway to see if injecting the cells into the heart could help regenerate heart muscle damaged by, for example, a heart attack. Again, researchers have reported success in rodents.
Several of these groundbreaking trials only use cord blood stem cells processed by Cord Blood Registry as a way of ensuring consistent quality. That means, saving with Cord Blood Registry gives families access to more uses and treatments.
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.
1. As today’s children grow up and some of them develop cancer as adults, autologous (self) cord blood transplants will become more commonly used. Pediatric cancers and adult cancers are completely different diseases at the cellular level (to learn more about cancer visit the website of the National Cancer Institute). While pediatric cancer patients rarely receive autologous transplants, among adult cancer patients the autologous transplants are more common than transplants from donors.
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
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.
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.
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).
Cord blood contains stem cells that can save lives. Patients requiring a stem cell transplant will receive cells from one of three sources: bone marrow, circulating blood, or umbilical cord blood. The first two exist in all healthy adults, but cord blood can only be harvested and stored at birth
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.
Entz-Werle N, Suciu S, van der Werff Ten Bosch J, et al. Results of 58872 and 58921 trials in acute myeloblastic leukemia and relative value of chemotherapy vs allogeneic bone marrow transplantation in first complete remission: the EORTC Children Leukemia Group report. Leukemia.2005;19 :2072– 2081
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.
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.
AABB accredited: Some cord blood companies have received extra accreditation from the AABB, or the American Association of Blood Banks, which means they meet a certain standard of service and accuracy of work.
Allows you to bank the unique stem cells in placental blood that have shown promise in the growing field of regenerative medicine,6,7,8 placing you and your family in the best position to benefit from ongoing developments in this field.
Cord blood transplants aren’t entirely new — they’ve been in use for about 20 years. In fact, the outcome of transplants has improved in the last 10 years, says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Hard numbers are tricky to pin down, but between that first transplant in 1988 and 2015, an estimated 35,000 umbilical cord blood transplants had been performed globally. That number includes people treated for leukemia and other types of cancer, blood disorders and immune diseases. And the utility of umbilical cord cells may stretch well beyond the disorders that the cells are currently being used for. “If you read the literature, it’s pretty exciting,” says pediatrician and immunologist William Shearer of Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.
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.
8. Arthritis. Also called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis—the most common form of arthritis—results when protective cartilage in joints wastes away. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. Stem cells could change that. Scientists are examining how best to use them to rebuild lost cartilage and repair shot joints.