Umbilical cord blood contains haematopoietic (blood) stem cells. These cells are able to make the different types of cell in the blood – red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Haematopoietic stem cells, purified from bone marrow or blood, have long been used in stem cell treatments for leukaemia, blood and bone marrow disorders, cancer (when chemotherapy is used) and immune deficiencies.
As cord blood is inter-related to cord blood banking, it is often a catch-all term used for the various cells that are stored. It may be surprising for some parents to learn that stored cord blood contains little of what people think of as “blood,” as the red blood cells (RBCs) can actually be detrimental to a cord blood treatment. (As we’ll discuss later, one of the chief goals of cord blood processing is to greatly reduce the volume of red blood cells in any cord blood collection.)
Therapies with cord blood have gotten more successful. “The outcomes of cord blood transplants have improved over the past 10 years because researchers and clinicians have learned more about dosing cord blood, picking better matches, and giving the patient better supportive care as they go through the transplant,” says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
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.)
As the research into umbilical cord blood and it’s therapeutic use for blood diseases has grown, so has the question as to whether people should privately store the cord blood of their offspring for future use. A recent paper on this issue by Mahendra Rao and colleagues advocates the practice of cord blood banking (for treatment of blood diseases) but in the context of public cord blood banks rather than a private cord blood banks. Any adult needing treated would need at least two cord blood samples that are immune compatible. So one sample will not be sufficient. A child might only need one cord blood sample but in the case of childhood leukaemia there is a risk that pre-leukemic cells are present in cord blood sample – and so the child could not use their own cells for therapy.
Since 1989, umbilical cord blood has been used successfully to treat children with leukaemia, anaemias and other blood diseases. Researchers are now looking at ways of increasing the number of haematopoietic stem cells that can be obtained from cord blood, so that they can be used to treat adults routinely too.
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Lack of awareness is the #1 reason why cord blood is most often thrown away. For most pregnant mothers, their doctor does not even mention the topic. If a parent wants to save cord blood, they must be pro-active.
Complications Side Effects As the donor’s stem cells will always be a perfect match, there will be no incidence of graft versus host disease (GVHD), which can be a chronic and even fatal condition. Graft versus host disease (GVHD) is estimated to occur in 60–80 percent of transplants where the donor and recipient are not related. Perfect match! No incidence of graft versus host disease Graft versus host disease (GVHD) occurs in 60%–80% of non-related transplants.
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Stem cell transplants from a related family member are less likely to be rejected, therefore having your baby’s stem cells available makes it less likely you would have to search for an unrelated donor who is a match
Up to 180 mL of blood can be taken from an umbilical cord for use in stem cell transplants. Due to the experimental nature of cord blood transplants, such transplants are considered on a case-by-case basis. This blood is collected from the umbilical cord, processed, and cryogenically preserved shortly after the umbilical cord is clamped. This blood can be cryogenically preserved for public or private (family) use. Public registries store cord blood donated for availability to the general public for transplantation. Private registries store cord blood on behalf of families who wish to use this blood for the donor infant, siblings, or other family members. Private cord blood banks charge a collection fee (ranging from $1,000-2,000) and an annual storage fee (approximately $150 per year).
Depending on the predetermined period of storage, the initial fee can range from $900 to $2100. Annual storage fees after the initial storage fee are approximately $100. It is common for storage facilities to offer prepaid plans at a discount and payment plans to help make the initial storage a more attractive option for you and your family.
Cord blood collection is a completely painless procedure that does not interfere with the birth or with mother-and-child bonding following the delivery. There is no risk to either the mother or baby. Cord blood collection rarely requires Blood Center staff to be present during the baby’s delivery. There is no cost to you for donating.
In fact, the shocking truth is that the majority of all cord blood stored in private banks may be unusable. Approximately 75 percent of the units donated to public banks are discarded or used in research because they don’t contain enough stem cells for transplants, says Mary Halet, manager of cord-blood operations for the Center for Cord Blood at the National Marrow Donor Program, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that maintains the nation’s largest public supply of cord blood. Yet private banks store every unit they collect, which means that you might pay to store blood that won’t be usable if you need it years later.
Collecting The collection for family banking can occur virtually anywhere. Public banks collect cord blood at only a limited number of locations. Can occur virtually anywhere Only a limited number of locations
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.
Your baby isn’t the only one who may benefit from having access to preserved newborn stem cells. The cells can potentially be used by siblings and parents, too. In many cord blood treatments, stem cells from a matched family member are preferred.
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