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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.
Parents often complain about cord blood banking costs. This is not an industry where costs can be cut by running a turn-key operation. Each cord blood unit must be individually tested and processed by trained technicians working in a medical laboratory.
To explain why cord blood banking is so expensive in the United States, we wrote an article with the CEO of a public cord blood bank that lists the steps in cord blood banking and itemizes the cost of each one.
The primary benefit to cord blood banking is that it provides a type of medical insurance. This insurance is not from a financial perspective, but rather takes the form of having the necessary medical building blocks available should they be needed in the event of certain illnesses and diseases. Those medical building blocks are the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood.
There are several cord blood banks that are accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks. Most offer information on cord blood banking and provide private cord blood banking services. With a little research, you should be able to locate a credible cord blood bank online.
Given the difficulty in estimating the need for using one’s own cord blood cells for transplantation, private storage of cord blood as “biological insurance” is unwise. However, banking should be considered if there is a family member with a current or potential need to undergo a stem cell transplantation.
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.
Cord blood can be used in the treatment of nearly 80 life-threatening diseases – from cancers to blood disorders. It’s also being used in regenerative medicine research to help kids with conditions like Autism and Cerebral Palsy.
Families with a history of diseases can greatly benefit from cord blood banking, as an insurance policy against possible future diseases. However, cord blood banking is expensive, can’t be used to treat everything, and your child may not even need it—at private cord blood banks, most is eventually discarded. Lastly, you should be aware that if the child develops certain genetic diseases, the cord blood will have the same genetic flaws.
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).
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.
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.
Public cord blood companies are mostly nonprofit companies that are traded publicly, and doctors can utilize matching cord blood in these banks for treating their patients, even if the blood is not their own.
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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
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
Donating your baby’s cord blood is a wonderful gift. The cells may be the perfect match for someone in desperate need of a stem cell transplant. Unfortunately, cord blood banking is still an extremely new industry; there are only a small handful of public banks in certain regions, and those banks are primarily focused on collecting cord blood stem cells from Hispanic and African American families due to the genetic diversity associated with those families. Please visit http://www.marrow.org/ for a list of public banks with their contact information. One other note: It is also a wonderful gift to be a bone marrow donor, and becoming one is much more available to the public, unlike cord blood banking. Please call your local blood bank or the American Red Cross for additional information on how to become a bone marrow donor.
After a baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta are no longer needed and are usually discarded. However, the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta is rich with blood-forming cells. (These cells are not embryonic stem cells.) By collecting and freezing this blood, the healthy blood-forming cells can be stored and may later be used by a patient who needs them.
Families with a history of diseases can store cord blood in a bank. These families can access it should a person get sick with an immune system or blood disease, like leukemia or sickle-cell anemia, later in life.
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.
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.
According to the statement, “Families may be vulnerable to emotional marketing 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 cells. The range of available estimates is from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000.” For this and other reasons, it is difficult to recommend that parents store their children’s cord blood for future use. The AAP policy states:
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.
Back in the 1980s, umbilical cord blood caught the attention of researchers who suspected that the often-discarded tissue could be a valuable source of shape-shifting stem cells. These cells, which can become several different types of blood cells, are similar to the specialized stem cells found in bone marrow that can churn out new blood cells. Such stem cells are found in adult blood, too, but not as abundantly.
Although cord blood is currently considered discarded human material, it should only be collected for banking with an institutional review board–approved protocol and with signed informed consent from a parent.42,43 Pertinent donor information communicated to the cord blood bank should be kept confidential by the cord blood bank and used only to report important medical information obtained during the cord blood collection, processing, and screening process that is relevant to the safety of the donor and family. If cord blood was collected from a newborn who subsequently developed a genetic, immunologic, or malignant neoplastic disorder, parents should notify the cord blood bank so that the unit is not used for transplantation. All cord blood units banked for potential use should be tested for infectious diseases, similar to those tested in a blood bank, and for hereditary hematologic diseases. The informed consent must contain information pertaining to what tests are to be performed on the cord blood and how the parents will be informed if test results are abnormal. Pediatricians should be aware that legal cases relating to the duty of a physician to warn parents about the risks of inheriting a genetic disease are new and untested. Pediatricians should remain vigilant, because future cases may define who has a legal duty to notify parents about genetic abnormalities identified during cord blood testing. Informed consent should be obtained before the onset of active labor and before cord blood collection.
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
Rocha V, Wagner JE Jr, Sobocinski KA, et al. Graft-versus-host disease in children who have received a cord-blood or bone marrow transplant from an HLA-identical sibling. Eurocord and International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry Working Committee on Alternative Donor and Stem Cell Sources. N Engl J Med.2000;342 :1846– 1854
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.
Physicians or other professionals who recruit pregnant women and their families for for-profit placental cord blood stem cell banking should disclose any financial interest or other potential conflict of interest they have in the procedure to their patients.
Nagatoshi Y, Kawano Y, Okamura J. Comparison of the outcomes of allogeneic bone marrow transplantation from partially mismatched related donors, matched sibling donors, and matched unrelated donors in Japanese pediatric patients: a single center result. Pediatr Transplant.2004;8 :260– 266
A history of releasing cord blood units for therapy. “This shows they’re not just selling contracts to parents — there are doctors who are actually accepting units of cord blood that have been stored there for therapy,” 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.
Some financial aid is available for families that opt for private cord blood banking. If you have a sick child who could benefit from umbilical cord blood, some cord blood banks offer programs in which the bank will cover free cord blood processing and storage if the baby has a biological sibling with certain diseases. Certain insurance companies may pitch in if that sibling needs to be treated with the cord blood in the near future, Dr. Verter says.
24/7 opperation of services, including holidays, is a must. As we all know, giving birth can happen at any time of day, which is why core blood banks should be at the ready for whenever your little one make his or her grand debut. Select a cord blood bank that utilizes industry approved standards for shipping. Temperature fluctuations speeds up cell death which affects the number of viable cells that reaches the laboratory for storage. Cord blood banks which use commercial shipping services, such as FedEx, use heavily insulated boxes to protect specimens. While others use medical couriers who specialize in delivering medical specimens, for added protection of your cord blood or tissue specimens.
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.
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.
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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.
Part of the reason for the dominance of these three companies in terms of the total number of units stored is that they are three of the oldest cord blood banks within the U.S., founded in 1992, 1993, and 1989, respectively. All three of these cord blood banks also support cord blood research and clinical trials.
Family Cord, located in Los Angeles, has a high-quality lab, a top rating from the Better Business Bureau, and accreditation from AABB; it’s also been in business since 1997. Family Cord is one of the few banks that will also cover the cost of cord blood banking for the first year (there’s an annual fee after the first year) in cases where a baby has a sick sibling or another family member who could benefit from the cord blood.