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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.
Cord blood holds promise for future medical procedures. Scientists are still studying more ways to treat more diseases with cord blood. At Duke University, for example, researchers are using patients’ own cord blood in trials for cerebral palsy and Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (a condition in which the brain does not receive enough oxygen). Trials are also under way for the treatment of autism at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute in Sacramento, California.
* Disclaimer: Banking cord blood does not guarantee that treatment will work and only a doctor can determine when it can be used. Cord tissue stem cells are not approved for use in treatment, but research is ongoing.
Umbilical cord blood stem cells are different from other kinds of cells in a couple of different ways. The first is that umbilical cord blood stem cells are unspecialized cells, which have the ability to renew themselves by cell division, even after significant time has elapsed since they were frozen. The second reason is that in certain situations, and under exacting conditions, the umbilical cord stem cells can become tissue- or organ-specific cells, allowing regeneration of those tissues.
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.
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.
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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.
There are usually two fees involved in cord blood banking. The first is the initial fee that covers enrollment, collection, and storage for at least the first year. The second is an annual storage fee. Some facilities vary the initial fee based upon the length of a predetermined period of storage.
Currently, ViaCord has released the most cord blood units for medical transplant and has the highest cord blood transplant survival rate among companies who have disclosed complete transplant data. The one-year survival rate of patients who were treated with ViaCord cord blood units is 88%, and the long-term patient survival rate is 82%.1
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.
Shai was a feisty little girl whose mother used her scientific background to search for the best approach to cure her cancer. Shai narrowly escaped death many times, including a recovery that even her doctors considered a miracle, yet she died at dawn on the day that she would have begun kindergarten. Her mother went on to found this website and charity in her memory. Read more…
Donating your baby’s cord blood to a public bank is always free. The limitations of the public banking network in the United States are: they only collect donations at large birthing hospitals in ethnically diverse communities, the mother must pass a health screening, they prefer registration by 34 weeks of pregnancy, and they only save the largest cord blood collections. The potential reward of public donation is that your baby could Be The Match to save a life!
Additional ethical concerns about umbilical cord blood banking involve the timing of clamping the umbilical cord after birth. Overall, the issue of when to clamp and cut the umbilical cord is controversial. There is no consensus on how early or how late in the birthing process the umbilical cord ought to be clamped and cut, although the cord obviously still provides nourishment and removes waste until it is clamped or spontaneously stops pulsing (Lothian & DeVries, 2010). However, some practitioners might clamp the umbilical cord early in an effort to maximize the amount of cord blood obtained for banking, and thus “short change” the child and allow the infant to become anemic (Drew, 2005).
10. Organ failure. What better way to ease the shortage of organs for transplantation than to grow new ones? That’s what some scientists think, and with stem cells, that vision may become more than a pipe dream. Last year, researchers grew a beating rat heart in the lab with the help of heart cells from newborn rats, preliminary proof of the concept.
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.
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.
Cord blood has been shown to contain pluripotent stem cells that have the potential to differentiate into nonhematopoietic tissue, such as cardiac, neurologic, pancreatic, and skin tissue, in vitro.53,54 Extensive laboratory research is taking place to explore the potential therapeutic benefit of cord blood under these circumstances. The results of this research will be necessary to formulate future recommendations regarding autologous cord blood banking.
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.
Despite the benefits of using umbilical cord blood stem cells for transplant, the process also has some disadvantages (see Table 3). For stem cell transplants to be successful, measurable signs of engraftment must occur. Engraftment is the opposite of rejection and indicates that the stem cell transplant is “working.” Two measurable signs of engraftment are the recovery of both neutrophil (a type of white blood cell) and platelet (a clotting factor) production. These two clinical signs of recovery take longer to occur in umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants than in bone marrow stem cell transplants. In other words, the lab values for white blood cell production and platelet production take longer to increase after umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants than after bone marrow stem cell transplants (Hess, 1997; Moise, 2005).
The “cell recovery rate” is often used to compare processing methods. Expressed as a percentage, the cell recovery rate tells you how many cells are retrieved from the original cord blood collection, once plasma has been removed and red blood cells have been reduced or removed. It is expected that some cells will be lost during processing, and most processing methods have published cell recovery rates between 80%—99%
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.
Private cord blood banking can benefit those with a strong family history of certain diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and some cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. Parents who already have a child (in a household with biological siblings) who is sick with one of these diseases have the greatest chance of finding a match with their baby’s cord blood. Parents who have a family history of autism, Alzheimer’s, and type 1 diabetes can benefit from cord blood. Although these diseases aren’t currently treated with umbilical cord steam cells, researchers are exploring ways to treat them (and many more) with cord blood.
Over 95% of newborns’ cord blood stem cells fall into this category. It is unfortunate that public banking is not readably available and private banking is so expensive. Some industry leaders believe that as the industry grows, banking or donating cord blood will be as common as it is uncommon today.
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.
Please tell us a little about yourself. A Newborn Stem Cell Educator may call to discuss your options and answer any questions you may have. You may also receive additional information about saving or donating newborn stem cells.
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.
As with all important decisions you make, the more educated you are, the better. After all, you only get one chance to bank your baby’s cord blood and you want to make sure that you choose a cord blood bank you can trust. Cord blood banking companies—especially private ones—vary widely in terms of quality, experience, and even the technology they use to collect, process, and store cord blood.