After your baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta are usually thrown away. Because you are choosing to donate, the blood left in the umbilical cord and placenta will be collected and tested. Cord blood that meets standards for transplant will be stored at the public cord blood bank until needed by a patient. (It is not saved for your family.)
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. 
Umbilical cords have traditionally been viewed as disposable biological by-product. Cord blood, however, is rich in multi-potent hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Recent medical advances have indicated that these stem cells found in cord blood can be used to treat the same disorders as the hematopoietic stem cells found in bone marrow and in the bloodstream but without some of the disadvantages of these types of transplants. Cord blood is currently used to treat approximately 70 diseases including leukemias, lymphomas, anemias, and Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID). Six thousand patients worldwide have been treated with cord blood stem cell transplants, although the FDA considers the procedure to be experimental. These multipotent stem cells also show promise for the treatment of a variety of diseases and disorders other than those affecting the blood.
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.
The therapeutic potential of stem cells from the umbilical cord is vast. Cord blood is already being used in the treatment of nearly 80 life-threatening diseases2, and researchers continue to explore it’s potential. Duke University Medical Center is currently using cord blood stem cells in a Phase II clinical trial to see if it benefits kids with Autism. The number of clinical trials using cord tissue stem cells in human patients has increased to approximately 150 since the first clinical trial in 2007. Cord tissue stem cells are also being studied for the potential use in kids with Autism – a Phase I Clinical Trial is underway.
The baby’s cord blood will be processed and stored in a laboratory facility, often referred to as a blood bank. The cord blood should be processed and stored in a facility that is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) for the purpose of handling stem cells.
While banking cord blood is a new experience for many parents, it is a simple one. After all, most mothers are worried about how the delivery will go and don’t want to also be worried about the details of collecting, processing and cryo-preserving their babies’s cord blood. Thankfully, the healthcare provider and the cord blood bank do most of the work. Here are the steps found in cord blood banking:
Stem cells from cord blood can be used for the newborn, their siblings, and potetinally other relatives. Patients with genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, cannot use their own cord blood and will need stem cells from a sibling’s cord blood. In the case of leukemia or other blood disorders, a child can use either their own cord blood or their sibling’s for treatment.
There are a number of different processing methods out there for a cord blood bank to use, and the processing method can ultimately affect the purity of the final product, which we’ll explain in a minute. Once the stem and immune system cells have been isolated and extracted from the plasma and red blood cell, they are mixed with a cryo-protectant and stored in a cryo-bag. We overwrap our bags for added protection and use a technique called “controlled-rate freezing” to prepare the cells for long-term storage. The overwrapped cryo-bag is housed in a protective metal cassette and placed in vapor-phase liquid nitrogen freezer for long-term preservation.
There are no hard numbers on a child’s risk of needing a stem-cell transplant: It’s anywhere between one in 1,000 and one in 200,000, according to studies cited by ACOG and the AAP. But private banks’ marketing materials often place the odds at one in 2,700 and note that these numbers don’t factor in its potential future use for diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal-cord injuries in adults. “Researchers are constantly discovering new treatments using stem cells,” says Gerald Maass, executive vice president of corporate development for Cryo-Cell, a private bank in Clearwater, Florida. Another major bank’s Web site claims incredible odds: “Should cord blood prove successful in treating heart disease, the lifetime probability of being diagnosed with a disease treatable by cord blood will increase from one in 100 to one in two.”
Only 25-50% of donations to public cord blood banks end up being stored.4 Typically, public cord blood banks only store donations that meet the size threshold for transplant use. That means most public cord blood banks will only keep cord blood collections that are at least 3 ounces.2
In Europe and other parts of the world, cord blood banking is more often referred to as stem cell banking. As banking cord blood is designed more to collect the blood-forming stem cells and not the actual blood cells themselves, this term may be more appropriate.
CBR Clients: Did you know that when you refer a friend, and they preserve their baby’s stem cells with us, you receive a free year of cord blood storage? After your first referral, you start earning even more rewards. (Exclusions apply): bit.ly/2Lk9enq pic.twitter.com/6g7QrMiegc
Blood in the umbilical cord and placenta is rich with blood-forming stem cells that can help save the lives of patients with diseases and disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma and aplastic anemia. With your consent, Canadian Blood Services can collect cord blood when you deliver your baby for Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank—to be used by anyone who needs stem cell treatment.
Cord Blood Registry’s Newborn Possibilities Program® serves as a catalyst to advance newborn stem cell medicine and science for families that have been identified with a medical need to potentially use newborn stem cells now or in the near future. NPP offers free cord blood and cord tissue processing and five years of storage to qualifying families. To date, the Newborn Possibilities Program has processed and saved stem cells for nearly 6,000 families.
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.
Part of the reason for the dominance of these three companies in terms of the total number of units stored is that they are three of the oldest cord blood banks within the U.S., founded in 1992, 1993, and 1989, respectively. All three of these cord blood banks also support cord blood research and clinical trials.
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.
2 Cordblood.com, (2014). Cord Blood Stem Cell Banking | Cord Blood Registry | CBR. [online] Available at: http://www.cordblood.com/cord-blood-banking-cost/cord-blood-stem-cells [Accessed 22 March. 2017].
nbiased and factual information. The Foundation educates parents, health professionals and the general public about the need to preserve this valuable medical resource while providing information on both public cord blood donation programs and private family cord blood banks worldwide. Learn more about our global community.
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.
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.
There is no significant opposition in the medical community to the public banking of cord blood. The donation of cord blood to public banks has generally been encouraged by the medical profession. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages the public donation of cord blood with appropriate genetic and infectious disease testing, although they caution that parents should be notified that they will receive the results of this testing. They also recommend that parents be informed that publicly banked cord blood may not be available for future private use.
Banking cord blood is a new type of medical protection, and there are a lot of questions that parents may want to ask. The Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood organization even has questions it believes all parents should ask their cord blood banks. We have answers to these and other frequently asked cord blood questions in our FAQs. If you can’t find the answer for which you are looking, please feel free to engage one of our cord blood educators through the website’s chat interface.
Current research aims to answer these questions in order to establish whether safe and effective treatments for non-blood diseases could be developed in the future using cord blood. An early clinical trial investigating cord blood treatment of childhood type 1 diabetes was unsuccessful. Other very early stage clinical trials are now exploring the use of cord blood transplants to treat children with brain disorders such as cerebral palsy or traumatic brain injury. However, such trials have not yet shown any positive effects and most scientists believe much more laboratory research is needed to understand how cord blood cells behave and whether they may be useful in these kinds of treatments
In New Zealand, a hopeful couple are participating in a study that will use one of their son’s cord blood stem cells to research treatment for another son’s cystic fibrosis. In Chicago, people are using their sibling’s stem cells to successfully treat sickle cell disease. And countless other families have banked their second child’s cord blood after their first child was diagnosed with leukemia. Many of those children are alive and well today thanks to their sibling’s stem cells. Since the first successful cord blood stem cell transplant on a sibling in 1988, over 30,000 cord blood transplants have been performed worldwide.
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.
In fact, the AAP does encourage parents to keep their child’s cord blood if a family member has already been diagnosed with a stem-cell-treatable disease. But a family won’t have to foot the bill: The Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, in California, will bank a baby’s cord blood for free if a family member needs it at the time of the baby’s birth. Some private banks, such as Cord Blood Registry, Cryo-Cell, and ViaCord, have similar programs.
It would be possible for a healthy child’s cord blood to be used to treat a sibling with leukemia, but the banks’ literature doesn’t spell out that distinction. In the last 10 years, almost all of the approximately 70 cord-blood transplants that have used privately stored blood were given to relatives with preexisting conditions, not to the donors themselves.
“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.”
There is often confusion over who can use cord blood stem cells in treatment — the baby they were collected from or a sibling? The short answer is both, but it very much depends on the condition being treated. And it’s ultimately the treating physician’s decision.
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.
After all is said and done, the cost to collect, test, process and store a donated cord blood collection at a public bank is estimated to be $1,200 to $1,500 dollars for each unit banked. That does not include the expense for the regulatory and quality systems needed to maintain licensure, or the cost of collecting units that are discarded because they don’t meet standards.