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 American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Hematology/Oncology, American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Allergy/Immunology, Bertram H. Lubin, and William T. Shearer, “Cord Blood Banking for Potential Future Transplantation,” Pediatrics 119 (2007): 165-170.
The umbilical cord is a rich source of two main types of stem cells: cord blood stem cells and cord tissue stem cells. Through the science of cord blood and cord tissue banking, these stem cells can help nurture life, long after your baby’s birth.
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Banking a baby’s blood and stem cells in a cord blood bank is a type of insurance. Ideally, you would not need to access your baby’s stem cells in order to address a medical concern. However, using a cord blood bank can provide peace of mind in knowing that you have a valuable resource if you need it.
Your baby’s umbilical cord is made up of tissue and contains blood. Both cord blood and cord tissue are rich sources of powerful stem cells. Cord blood stem cells are currently used in transplant medicine to regenerate healthy blood and immune systems. These cells are being researched for their ability to act like our body’s own personal repair kit and may be able to help our bodies heal in new ways.
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.
They aren’t the only ones questioning the business practices of private cord-blood banks. Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued statements in the late 1990s opposing the use of for-profit banks — and criticizing their marketing tactics. Instead, they recommended that parents donate cord blood to public banks, which make it available for free to anyone who needs it. Globally, other organizations have done the same. Italy and France have banned private cord-blood banking altogether.
If you’re thinking about banking your baby’s cord blood stem cells, one question you’ve probably considered is whether to choose a private or public cord blood bank. As with any major decision in your life, it pays to do your research so you can make the best choice for your family about the future of your baby’s cord blood.
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.
Upon arrival at CBR’s laboratory, the kit is immediately checked in and inspected. Next, the cord blood unit is tested for sterility, viability, and cell count. In addition, the cord tissue is tested for sterility. CBR processes cord blood using the AutoXpress® Platform* (AXP®) – a fully automated, functionally closed stem cell processing technology. The AXP platform is an integral component of CBR’s proprietary CellAdvantage® system. CBR has the industry’s highest published average cell recovery rate of 99%.
While the transplantation of cord blood has its advantages, its main disadvantage is the limited amount of blood contained within a single umbilical cord. Because of this, cord blood is most often transplanted in children. Physicians are currently trying to determine ways that cord blood can be used in larger patients, such as transferring two cord blood units or increasing the number of cells in vitro before transplanting to the patient. It also takes longer for cord blood cells to engraft. This lengthier period means that the patient is at a higher risk for infection until the transplanted cells engraft. Patients also cannot get additional donations from the same donor if the cells do not engraft or if the patient relapses. If this is the case, an additional cord blood unit or an adult donor may be used. While cord blood is screened for a variety of common genetic diseases, rare genetic diseases that manifest after birth may be passed on. The National Cord Blood Program estimates that the risk of transmitting a rare genetic disorder is approximately 1 in 10,000.
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MSCs can turn into bone, cartilage, fat tissue, and more. Although they are associated with bone marrow, these cells are also found in umbilical cord blood. These cells can function as connective tissue, which connects vital organs inside the body. Like HSCs, MSCs are multipotent.
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HSCs can become any type of blood cell or cellular blood component inside the body, including white blood cells and red blood cells. These cells are found in umbilical cord blood and are multipotent, which means they can develop into more than one cell type.
Lead image of baby’s umbilical cord from Wikimedia Commons. Possible human blood stem cell image by Rajeev Gupta and George Chennell. Remaining images of blood sample bags and red blood cells from Wellcome Images.
Not surprisingly, this emotional pitch is working — especially because the seemingly unlimited potential of stem cells has dominated the news in recent years. From 2003 to 2004, for example, the number of couples opting to use a private bank increased by 55 percent to 271,000. The three biggest companies — who have the majority of the approximately $250 million market — are vying for business.
Another way scientists are working with stem cells is through expansion technologies that spur replication of the cord blood stem cells. If proven effective and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these expansion technologies will allow scientists to culture many stem cells from a small sample. This could provide doctors and researchers with enough stem cells to treat multiple family members with one cord blood collection or provide the baby with multiple treatments over time. To better prepare for the day when these expansion technologies are more easily accessible, some cord blood banks have begun to separate their cord blood collections into separate compartments, which can easily be detached from the rest of the collection and used independently. You can learn more about Cryo-Cell’s five-chambered storage bag here.
But considering the average cost of a new car or top-of-the-line stroller these days, many expectant parents feel it’s not an unreasonable price to pay to give their child the best chance in life. “Ultimately, my conscience wouldn’t let me not do it,” says Merilee Kern, of San Diego. “We could afford it, and the blood could someday save my daughter.”
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When Tracey and Victor Dones’s 4-month-old son was diagnosed with osteopetrosis, a potentially fatal disorder that affects bone formation, the panic-stricken couple was relieved to hear that a stem-cell transplant could save his life. “We’d paid to store Anthony’s umbilical-cord blood in a private bank in case he ever needed it — and I thought we were so smart for having had the foresight to do that,” says Tracey.
Today, cord blood stems cells are used in the treatment of nearly 80 diseases, including a wide range of cancers, genetic diseases, and blood disorders.2 In a cord blood transplant, stem cells are infused in to a patient’s bloodstream where they go to work healing and repairing damaged cells and tissue. When a transplant is successful, a healthy new immune system has been created.
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.
Medical staff at the public cord blood bank will check to see if you can donate. If you have had a disease that can be given to another person through blood-forming cells, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV (the AIDS virus), you will likely not be able to donate. However, other medical reasons may still allow you to donate, for example, hepatitis A or diabetes only during your pregnancy (gestational diabetes). The staff at the public cord blood bank will tell you.
Public cord blood banks store cord blood for allogenic transplants. They do not charge to store cord blood. The stem cells in the donated cord blood can be used by anyone who matches. Some public banks will store cord blood for directed donation if you have a family member who has a disease that could potentially be treated with stem cells.
Anthony’s doctors found a match for him through the New York Blood Center’s National Cord Blood Program, a public cord blood bank. Unlike private banks, public banks do not charge to collect cord blood, they charge a patients insurance company when cells are used. And once it is entered in the public system, the blood is available to anyone who needs it.
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However, parents should know that a child’s own cord blood (stored at birth), would rarely be suitable for a transplant today. It could not be used at present to treat genetic diseases, for example, because the cord blood stem cells carry the same affected genes and. if transplanted, would confer the same condition to the recipient. (See the story of Anthony Dones.) In addition, most transplant physicians would not use a child’s own cord blood to treat leukemia. There are two reasons why the child’s own cord blood is not safe as a transplant source. First, in most cases of childhood leukemia, cells carrying the leukemic mutation are already present at birth and can be demonstrated in the cord blood. Thus, pre-leukemic cells may be given back with the transplant, since there is no effective way to remove them (purge) today. Second, in a child with leukemia, the immune system has already failed to prevent leukemia. Since cord blood from the same child re-establishes the child’s own immune system, doctors fear it would have a poor anti-leukemia effect.
Donating cord blood to a public cord blood bank involves talking with your doctor or midwife about your decision to donate and then calling a cord blood bank (if donation can be done at your hospital). Upon arriving at the hospital, tell the labor and delivery nurse that you are donating umbilical cord blood.
The main reason for this requirement is to give the cord blood bank enough time to complete the enrollment process. For the safety of any person who might receive the cord blood donation, the mother must pass a health history screening. And for ethical reasons, the mother must give informed consent.
^ a b Ballen, KK; Gluckman, E; Broxmeyer, HE (25 July 2013). “Umbilical cord blood transplantation: the first 25 years and beyond”. Blood. 122 (4): 491–8. doi:10.1182/blood-2013-02-453175. PMC 3952633 . PMID 23673863.
Adverse effects are similar to hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, namely graft-versus-host disease if the cord blood is from a genetically different person, and the risk of severe infection while the immune system is reconstituted. There is a lower incidence with cord blood compared with traditional HSCT, despite less stringent HLA match requirements. 
^ a b c d e f Juric, MK; et al. (9 November 2016). “Milestones of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation – From First Human Studies to Current Developments”. Frontiers in Immunology. 7: 470. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2016.00470. PMC 5101209 . PMID 27881982.
To learn more about umbilical cord blood and banking please watch Banking on cord blood, Cord blood – banking and uses, Cord blood transplantation – how stem cells can assist in the treatment of cancer in our video library.
Complicating matters further, each public bank has its own registry, so transplant centers must search many different databases to find a match for a patient. Currently, a Caucasian patient has an 88 percent chance of finding a cord-blood match through a public-bank registry, and minorities have a 58 percent chance. (Collection hospitals tend to be in areas with higher rates of Caucasian births, and parents from certain ethnic groups are wary of donating for religious or cultural reasons.)
Until now, however, it hasn’t always been easy for couples to donate their baby’s cord blood to a public bank. The 28 public banks currently in operation work with only about 100 hospitals in the U.S. (find the list at parentsguidetocordblood.com). If you don’t deliver at one of these hospitals, you can contact either Cryobanks International or LifebankUSA, commercial organizations that store both private and public units. These banks pick up the tab for your donation (minus the physician’s collection fee).
If you are interested in donating cord blood to a public bank and do not have access to a hospital that accepts cord blood donations, you can contact a lab that offers a mail-in program. After you’ve passed the lab’s eligibility screening process, they’ll send you a kit that you can use to package and mail in your cord blood.2