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The first cord blood transplant was performed in Paris on October 6, 1988. Since that time, over 1 million cord blood units have been collected and stored in public and family banks all over the world.
The term “cord blood” is used for the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and the placenta after the birth of a baby. Cord Blood contains stem cells that can grow into blood and immune system cells, as well as other types of cells. Today cord blood is often used as a substitute for bone marrow in stem cell transplants. There are over 80 diseases treated this way, including cancers, blood disorders, genetic and metabolic diseases.
Bone marrow transplantation, also called hemopoietic stem cell transplantation, is under investigation for the treatment of severe forms of multiple sclerosis. The long-term benefits of this experimental procedure have not yet been established. In this procedure, the individual receives grafts of his or her own blood stem cells, and thus donor stem cells are not used or needed.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration regulates any facility that stores cord blood; cord blood intended for use in the person from whom it came is not regulated, but cord blood for use in others is regulated as a drug and as a biologic. Several states also have regulations for cord blood banks.
“Raising a family is expensive enough,” says Jeffrey Ecker, MD, director of obstetrical clinical research at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, and a member of ACOG’s ethics committee. “There’s no reason for parents to take on this additional financial burden when there’s little chance of a child ever using his own cord blood.”
In 2003, we reported that UCM cells can be induced in vitro to become cells with morphological and biochemical characteristics of neurons (26). These findings have been extended by others, for example, neurons (30–32), cardiac muscle, bone, and cartilage (29,32). Using two in vitro differentiation methods, Wang et al. (32) found that umbilical cord matrix stem (UCMS) cells could be induced to exhibit cardiomyocyte morphology and synthesize cardiac muscle proteins such as N-cadherin and cardiac troponin I. The cells responded to five azacytidine or culture in cardiomyocyte-conditioned media. Fu et al. (30) used media conditioned by primary rat brain neurons to induce human UCMS cells to synthesize NeuN neurofilament. Furthermore, they could invoke an inward current in UCM cells with glutamate. In that report, exposure to neural-conditioned media also increased the proportion of cells synthesizing the astroglial protein glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) from 94% initially to 5% after 9 d, although the percentage had declined to about 2% by day 12. The multilineage potential of UCMS cells was also verified by Wang and colleagues (32), who showed that they could be induced in vitro into chondrogenic, osteogenic, and adipogenic lineages.
A limitation of cord blood is that it contains fewer HSCs than a bone marrow donation does, meaning adult patients often require two volumes of cord blood for treatments. Researchers are studying ways to expand the number of HSCs from cord blood in labs so that a single cord blood donation could supply enough cells for one or more HSC transplants.
Research is being conducted using cord blood cells to analyze immune response and other factors that may eventually shed light on causes and treatment of MS. However, at present there is no treatment available involving cord blood cells. Nor do we know of any sites that are looking for cord blood specifically for MS research.
Meet Dylan. Diagnosed with leukemia at just 8 weeks old, he received a life-saving cord blood transplant at 6 months old. Today, Dylan is growing up strong, going to school, travelling with his family and just having fun being a kid!
Private companies offer to store cord blood for anyone who wants it done, whether or not there is any medical reason known to do so at the time. The fee for private storage varies, but averages about $1,500 up front and $100 per year for storage. When there is no one in the family who needs a transplant, private storage of a newborn’s cord blood is done for a purely speculative purpose that some companies have termed “biological insurance.”
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
Because the body’s immune system is designed to find and get rid of what it believes to be outside contaminants, stem cells and other cells of the immune system cannot be transfused into just anyone. For stem cell transfusions of any type, the body’s immune system can mistakenly start attacking the patient’s own body. This is known as graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) and is a big problem post-transplant. GvHD can be isolated and minimal, but it can also be acute, chronic and even deadly.
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.)
Then, the cord blood is listed on a national registry. Be The Match is the name of the U.S. registry. This organization also partners with international programs, which means your child’s stem cells could be used to treat a patient on the other side of the world.
Clearly, it is advantageous to save cord blood stem cells, but it can be confusing to decide where to store them. There are currently two options: public cord blood banks and private cord blood banks. Public and private banks serve very different purposes, and it is important to know which type of bank would be more beneficial to you and your family.
The use of cord blood is determined by the treating physician and is influenced by many factors, including the patient’s medical condition, the characteristics of the sample, and whether the cord blood should come from the patient or an appropriately matched donor. Cord blood has established uses in transplant medicine; however, its use in regenerative medicine is still being researched. There is no guarantee that treatments being studied in the laboratory, clinical trials, or other experimental treatments will be available in the future.
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.”
Companies throughout Europe also offer commercial (private) banking of umbilical cord blood. A baby’s cord blood is stored in case they or a family member develop a condition that could be treated by a cord blood transplant. Typically, companies charge an upfront collection fee plus an annual storage fee.
While the stem cell count is smaller during a cord blood transplant, these cells multiply quickly, and researchers are studying new methods to increase cells naturally. Compared to bone marrow, cord blood cells multiply faster and don’t require an exact match type to complete a successful transplant. Some techniques medical experts are testing to increase the amount of stem cells include:
There is now compelling evidence that MSCs, guided by chemokines and other cues emanating from areas of pathology such as tumors, will “home” specifically to those areas. The supporting connective tissue stroma of a tumor is formed in a manner similar to wound healing and scar formation (64), and tumors generate signals to recruit stromal cells from contiguous regions as well as from bone marrow to sustain themselves (65,66). Because UCM stem cells are very closely related to MSCs (28), it would not be surprising to find that they also will home to tumors, and in fact such a phenomenon has been observed in preliminary experiments in our laboratory (unpublished observations). The exact signals that recruit transplanted or endogenous cells to regions of inflammation or neoplasia remain obscure. However, stromal cell-derived factor-1α plays a crucial role in recruitment of bone marrow-derived cells to the heart after myocardial infarction (67). Matrigel invasion assays have implicated such molecules as platelet-derived growth factor-BB, epidermal growth factor, and stromal cell-derived factor-1α as chemokines for MSCs; however, neither basic FGF (bFGF) nor vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) had an affect (68). In any event, the directed trafficking of umbilical and other mesenchymal stem cells to tumors opens the enticing prospect that they may be a platform for targeted delivery of high local levels of protein. Often, such proteins have a short half-life and/or cause major side effects when given systematically.
Once it arrives at the storage facility, the cord blood will be processed and placed in storage. The cord blood will either be completely immersed in liquid nitrogen or it will be stored in nitrogen vapor.
Cord Blood Registry (CBR) is a private bank that offers collection and long-term storage of both cord blood and cord tissue. With more than 700,000 stored units, CBR is one of the largest of the cord blood banks.
In contrast, although there are several reports of pluripotent cells being isolated from adults (13–17), this work is in need of independent verification. Such verification is important because an alternative source of pluripotent cells, cells derived from adults, offers the best of both worlds: pluripotent cells for therapeutics and cells that are collected with consent from adults (no controversy there). Two such cell types are discussed briefly later.
Be the Match is a nonprofit organization that supports public cord blood banks’ efforts to encourage donations. It maintains the largest public listing of donated cord blood available for transplantation in the United States. The organization has facilitated more than 7,000 unrelated cord blood transplants since the year 2000.
We offer standard and premium cord blood processing options. The former has been used in thousands of successful transplants since 1988, and the latter is a superior new processing method that greatly enhances parents’ return on investment. Please visit our processing technology page to learn about our cord blood processing methods.
With the consent of the parents, blood can be collected from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby shortly after birth. This does not hurt the baby or the mother in any way, and it is blood that would otherwise be discarded as biological waste along with the placenta (another rich source of stem cells) after the birth.
Cord Blood Registry® (CBR®) is the world’s largest newborn stem cell company. Founded in 1992, CBR is entrusted by parents with storing samples from more than 600,000 children. CBR is dedicated to advancing the clinical application of cord blood and cord tissue stem cells by partnering with institutions to establish FDA-regulated clinical trials for conditions that have no cure today.CBR has helped more than 400 families use their cord blood stem cells for established and experimental medical treatments, more than any other family cord blood bank. CBR’s goal is to expand the potential scope of newborn stem cell therapies that may be available to patients and their families.
Ironically, some private banks also hope to benefit from this new legislation. “We have the capabilities and capacity to collect and store donated as well as private units,” says Cryo-Cell’s Maass. In fact, because the bill recommends that pregnant women be informed of all of their cord-blood options, it’s likely that donations to both public and private banks will increase.