This is only the beginning. Newborn stem cell research is advancing, and may yield discoveries that could have important benefits for families. CBR’s mission is to support the advancement of newborn stem cell research, with the hope that the investment you are making now will be valuable to your family in the future. CBR offers a high quality newborn stem cell preservation system to protect these precious resources for future possible benefits for your family.
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.
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Cord blood is used to treat children with cancerous blood disorders such as leukaemia, or genetic blood diseases like Fanconi anaemia. The cord blood is transplanted into the patient, where the HSCs can make new, healthy blood cells to replace those damaged by the patient’s disease or by a medical treatment such as chemotherapy for cancer.
Cord blood does not have to be as closely matched as bone marrow or peripheral blood transplants. Bone marrow transplants typically require a 6/6 HLA match. While a closely matched cord blood transplant is preferable, cord blood has been transplanted successfully with as few as 3/6 matches. For patients with uncommon tissue types, cord blood may be an option if a suitable adult donor cannot be found. Since cord blood is cryogenically preserved and stored, it is more readily available than bone marrow or peripheral blood from an unrelated donor, allowing transplants to take place within a shorter period of time. It takes approximately two weeks to locate, transfer, and thaw a preserved cord blood unit. Finding a suitable bone marrow donor typically takes at least two months.
In 2007, the AAP issued a revised cord-blood-banking policy, that discourages private banks for families who aren’t already facing a health crisis. “These banks prey on parents’ fears of the unknown, and there’s no scientific basis for a number of medical claims they make,” says Bertram Lubin, MD, president and director of medical research for Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, and coauthor for the AAP’s 2006 cord-blood-banking committee.
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.
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.
If you make a donation to a public cord blood bank, you can’t reserve it for your family, so it may not be available for your future use. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Medical Association (AMA) recommend public cord blood banking over private cord blood banking. Here’s why:
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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.
Public cord blood banking supports the health of the community. Public banks collect qualifying cord blood donations from healthy pregnancies and save them in case one of them will be the match to save the life of a patient who needs a stem cell transplant. In the United States our registry of donors is called Be The Match. Patients who have a rare genetic type are more likely to receive cord blood transplants. In order for parents to donate cord blood to a public bank, their baby must be born at a hospital that accepts donations. Public cord blood banking is highly recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Medical Association (AMA).
Once a cord blood donation has been saved, it may be listed on a national registry that can be searched to find a match for a transplant patient. The donation could be released to any recipient who is compatible.
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.)
Cord blood is used the same way that hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is used to reconstitute bone marrow following radiation treatment for various blood cancers, and for various forms of anemia. Its efficacy is similar as well.
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.
Cord blood donation doesn’t cost anything for parents. Public cord blood banks pay for everything which includes the collection, testing, and storing of umbilical cord blood. This means that cord blood donation is not possible in every hospital.
Private cord blood banking can benefit those with a strong family history of certain diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and some cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. Parents who already have a child (in a household with biological siblings) who is sick with one of these diseases have the greatest chance of finding a match with their baby’s cord blood. Parents who have a family history of autism, Alzheimer’s, and type 1 diabetes can benefit from cord blood. Although these diseases aren’t currently treated with umbilical cord steam cells, researchers are exploring ways to treat them (and many more) with cord blood.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 2009 issue of Dignitas, the Center’s quarterly publication. Subscriptions to Dignitas are available to CBHD Members. To learn more about the benefits of becoming a member click here.
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.
^ a b c American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Hematology/Oncology; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Allergy/Immunology; Lubin, BH; Shearer, WT (January 2007). “Cord blood banking for potential future transplantation”. Pediatrics. 119 (1): 165–70. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-2901. PMID 17200285.
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.
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One oft cited argument against cord blood banking is that it is not known how long these cells can remain viable in storage. While it is not known if cells taken from an individual as an infant will be beneficial to them as an adult, units stored for up to 10 years have been transplanted successfully. This indicates that there is no reason to suggest serious deterioration in the quality of cord blood units stored for longer periods of time.
Umbilical cord blood is useful for research. For example, researchers are investigating ways to grow and multiply haematopoietic (blood) stem cells from cord blood so that they can be used in more types of treatments and for adult patients as well as children. Cord blood can also be donated altruistically for clinical use. Since 1989, umbilical cord blood transplants have been used to treat children who suffer from leukaemia, anaemias and other blood diseases.
As most parents would like to bank their babies’ cord blood to help safeguard their families, it is often the cost of cord blood banking that is the one reason why they do not. Most cord blood banks have an upfront fee for collecting, processing and cryo-preserving the cord blood that runs between $1,000 and $2,000. This upfront fee often also includes the price of the kit provided to collect and safely transport the cord blood, the medical courier service used to expedite the kit’s safe shipment, the testing of the mother’s blood for any infectious diseases, the testing of the baby’s blood for any contamination, and the cost of the first full year of storage. There is then often a yearly fee on the baby’s birthday for continued storage that runs around $100 to $200 a year.
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.
Haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) can make every type of cell in the blood – red cells, white cells and platelets. They are responsible for maintaining blood production throughout our lives. They have been used for many years in bone marrow transplants to treat blood diseases.
Gift of Life is a non-profit charity that seeks to help Jewish patients find a transplant match. They recruit both bone marrow donors and cord blood donations from the Jewish community. Gift of Life operates their own accredited cord blood laboratory that participates in the national NMDP network.
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.
Sign a consent form to donate. This consent form says that the donated cord blood may be used by any patient needing a transplant. If the cord blood cannot be used for transplantation, it may be used in research studies or thrown away. These studies help future patients have a more successful transplant.
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.