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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.
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There was a time before the 1990s when the umbilical cord and its blood were considered medical waste. Today, parents bank or store their baby’s umbilical cord blood because the stem cells it contains are currently utilized or show promise in the treatment of life-threatening and debilitating diseases.
After a baby is born, cord blood is left in the umbilical cord and placenta. It is relatively easy to collect, with no risk to the mother or baby. It contains haematopoietic (blood) stem cells: rare cells normally found in the bone marrow.
Taking time to consider helping another person when you are already busy planning for the birth of your child is greatly appreciated. A gift of cord blood may someday give someone a second chance at life.
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.”
In this way, cord blood offers a useful alternative to bone marrow transplants for some patients. It is easier to collect than bone marrow and can be stored frozen until it is needed. It also seems to be less likely than bone marrow to cause immune rejection or complications such as Graft versus Host Disease. This means that cord blood does not need to be as perfectly matched to the patient as bone marrow (though some matching is still necessary).
For example, in the UK the NHS Cord Blood Bank has been collecting and banking altruistically donated umbilical cord blood since 1996. The cord blood in public banks like this is stored indefinitely for possible transplant, and is available for any patient that needs this special tissue type. There is no charge to the donor but the blood is not stored specifically for that person or their family.
Public cord blood banks offer free cord blood banking to anyone who meets their donation requirements. They are usually supported by federal or private funding, which is why they can perform these collections at no cost to the family. The pros and cons of public cord blood banking are listed below.
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When a donor signs up with a public bank, the mother must pass a health screening and sign a consent form. After that, the bank processes the application, which makes last-minute donations impossible. However, there are a small number of banks that accept late donor requests.
Since 1988, cord blood transplants have been used to treat over 80 diseases in hospitals around the world. Inherited blood disorders such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia can be cured by cord blood transplant. Over the past decade, clinical trials have been developing cord blood therapies for conditions that affect brain development in early childhood, such as cerebral palsy and autism.
Use for Family Siblings gain access to the stem cells, too. They have a one-in-four chance of being a perfect match amd a 39% chance of being a transplant-acceptable match. Parents have a 100 pecent chance of being a partial match. The chances of recovering the donated stem cells for a family memeber is also diminished greatly as described above. Siblings = 75% chance of acceptable match
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
You and your baby’s personal information are always kept private by the public cord blood bank. The cord blood unit is given a number at the hospital, and this is how it is listed on the registry and at the public cord blood bank.
In the last 10 yr, umbilical cord blood has been shown to be therapeutically useful for rescuing patients with bone marrow-related deficits and inborn errors of metabolism. Umbilical cord blood offers advantages over bone marrow because cord blood does not require perfect human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue matching, has less incidence of graft vs host disease, and may be used allogenically (11,12). In addition, cord blood may be banked, and thus is available for use “off-the-shelf.” Last year, a federally supported program was established to expand the national umbilical cord blood banks to include a wide sample of HLA types. By 2004, there were more than 6000 cord blood stem cell units banked. As of January 2006, it is estimated that there are about 300,000 units in public and private banks in the United States.
The Doneses were shocked, however, when doctors told them that Anthony’s cord blood couldn’t be used because the cells contained the same genetic defect that caused his condition. “The materials provided by the bank said this was Anthony’s life insurance and could save him if he needed it. They never mentioned that the cells could be diseased. We felt duped,” Tracey says. The Long Island, New York, couple has since filed a lawsuit against the bank alleging false advertising and consumer fraud.
Several research teams have reported studies in animals suggesting that cord blood can repair tissues other than blood, in diseases ranging from heart attacks to strokes. These findings are controversial: scientists often cannot reproduce such results and it is not clear HOW cord blood may be having such effects. When beneficial effects are observed they may be very slight and not significant enough to be useful for developing treatments. If there are positive effects, they might be explained not by cord blood cells making nerve or heart cells, but by the cells in the cord blood releasing substances that help the body repair damage.
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.
However, cord blood transplants also have limitations. Treatment of adults with cord blood typically requires two units of cord blood to treat one adult. Clinical trials using “double cord blood transplantation” for adults have demonstrated outcomes similar to use of other sources of HSCs, such as bone marrow or mobilized peripheral blood. Current studies are being done to expand a single cord blood unit for use in adults. Cord blood can also only be used to treat blood diseases. No therapies for non-blood-related diseases have yet been developed using HSCs from either cord blood or adult bone marrow.
There are a few simple things that you need to do in order to donate cord blood. These include a medical history questionnaire, a consent form, a blood sample and maybe a follow up phone call. If you’re considering donating your baby’s umbilical cord blood, call the St. Louis Cord Blood Bank at 314-268-2787 or 888-453-2673 to register and download the required forms here. This can be done anytime before you deliver.
Women thinking about donating their child’s cord blood to a public bank must pass certain eligibility requirements. While these vary from bank to bank, the following list shows general health guidelines for mothers wanting to donate.
In March 2004, the European Union Group on Ethics (EGE) has issued Opinion No.19 titled Ethical Aspects of Umbilical Cord Blood Banking. The EGE concluded that “[t]he legitimacy of commercial cord blood banks for autologous use should be questioned as they sell a service, which has presently, no real use regarding therapeutic options. Thus they promise more than they can deliver. The activities of such banks raise serious ethical criticisms.”
Though uses of cord blood beyond blood and immunological disorders is speculative, some research has been done in other areas. Any such potential beyond blood and immunological uses is limited by the fact that cord cells are hematopoietic stem cells (which can differentiate only into blood cells), and not pluripotent stem cells (such as embryonic stem cells, which can differentiate into any type of tissue). Cord blood has been studied as a treatment for diabetes. However, apart from blood disorders, the use of cord blood for other diseases is not in routine clinical use and remains a major challenge for the stem cell community.
Our annual storage fee is due every year on the birth date of the child and covers the cost of storage until the following birthday. The fee is fixed upon enrollment for 18 years and will not increase during that span of time. If the stem cells are preserved after the 18th year, preservation may then fall under the new pricing structure.
Stem cells are able to transform into other types of cells in the body to create new growth and development. They are also the building blocks of the immune system. The transformation of these cells provides doctors with a way to treat leukemia and some inherited health disorders.
If you feel that the procedure is too expensive for your child, check with the hospital to see if there are any programs and/or grants available that can assist with the procedure. Some companies do offer financial aid.
Blood from the umbilical cord and placenta is put into a sterile bag. (The blood is put into the bag either before or after the placenta is delivered, depending upon the procedure of the cord blood bank.)