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.
The cord blood of your baby is an abundant source of stem cells that are genetically related to your baby and your family. Stem cells are dominant cells in the way they contribute to the development of all tissues, organs, and systems in the body.
If a sibling of a child whose cord blood you banked needs a transplant, then your chances of a match will be far higher than turning to the public. However, the safest bet is to bank the cord blood of all your children, safeguarding them against a number of diseases and ensuring a genetic match if necessary.
Similar to transplantation, the main disadvantage is the limited number of cells that can be procured from a single umbilical cord. Different ways of growing and multiplying HSCs in culture are currently being investigated. Once this barrier is overcome, HSCs could be used to create “universal donor” stem cells as well as specific types of red or white blood cells. Immunologic rejection is a possibility, as with any stem cell transplant. HSCs that are genetically modified are susceptible to cancerous formation and may not migrate (home) to the appropriate tissue and actively divide. The longevity of cord blood HSCs is also unknown.
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.
There are no health risks related to cord blood collection. Cord blood is retrieved from the umbilical cord after it has been cut, thus preventing any pain, discomfort, or harm. This process is completely safe.
Why should you consider donating the cord blood to a public bank? Simply because, besides bringing a new life into the world, you could be saving an individual whose best chance at life is a stem cell transplant with your baby’s donated cord blood. This can only happen if you donate and if your baby is a close enough match for a patient in need. If you chose to reserve the cord blood for your family, then siblings who have the same parents have a 25% chance of being an exact match.
We are genetically closest to our siblings. That’s because we inherit half of our DNA from our mother and half from our father, so the genes we inherit are based on a chance combination of our parents’. Our siblings are the only other people inheriting the same DNA.
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.
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
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.”
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.
The first cord blood banks were private cord blood banks. In fact, Cryo-Cell is the world’s first private cord blood bank. It wasn’t until later that the government realized the need to preserve cord blood for research and public welfare. As a result, 31 states have adopted a law or have a piece of pending legislation that requires or encourages OBGYNs to educate expectant parents about cord blood banking and many states now have publicly held cord blood banks. As a result, parents have the option of banking their baby’s cord blood privately for the exclusive use of the child and the rest of the family or donating the cord blood to a public bank so that it can be used in research or by any patient who is a match and in need.
While donating cord blood is honorable, there is a lot people do not know about the public option. Most public cord blood banks have a limited number of collection sites, and they only retain a small number of collections because of volume and other criteria that must be met. Once cord blood is donated, it is highly unlikely that the donation can ever be attained by the donor or his or her family if the need arises. In addition, it may be hard to find another viable match from what is publically available. While donating is free, retreiving a cord blood sample from a public cord blood bank is not and pales in comparison to the overall cost of privately banking cord blood. These are just some of the reasons why privately banking cord blood may be a better option for some families.
^ a b Walther, Mary Margaret (2009). “Chapter 39. Cord Blood Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation”. In Appelbaum, Frederick R.; Forman, Stephen J.; Negrin, Robert S.; Blume, Karl G. Thomas’ hematopoietic cell transplantation stem cell transplantation (4th ed.). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9781444303537.
Both public and family cord blood banks must register with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and since Oct. 2011 public banks also need to apply for an FDA license. All cord blood banks are required by federal law to test the blood of the mother for infectious diseases. At public banks the screening is usually more extensive, similar to the tests performed when you donate blood. The typical expense to a public bank is $150 per unit.
When Tracey and Victor Dones’s 4-month-old son was diagnosed with osteopetrosis, a potentially fatal disorder that affects bone formation, the panic-stricken couple was relieved to hear that a stem-cell transplant could save his life. “We’d paid to store Anthony’s umbilical-cord blood in a private bank in case he ever needed it — and I thought we were so smart for having had the foresight to do that,” says Tracey.
While the transplantation of cord blood has its advantages, its main disadvantage is the limited amount of blood contained within a single umbilical cord. Because of this, cord blood is most often transplanted in children. Physicians are currently trying to determine ways that cord blood can be used in larger patients, such as transferring two cord blood units or increasing the number of cells in vitro before transplanting to the patient. It also takes longer for cord blood cells to engraft. This lengthier period means that the patient is at a higher risk for infection until the transplanted cells engraft. Patients also cannot get additional donations from the same donor if the cells do not engraft or if the patient relapses. If this is the case, an additional cord blood unit or an adult donor may be used. While cord blood is screened for a variety of common genetic diseases, rare genetic diseases that manifest after birth may be passed on. The National Cord Blood Program estimates that the risk of transmitting a rare genetic disorder is approximately 1 in 10,000.
If you’re thinking about banking your baby’s cord blood stem cells, one question you’ve probably considered is whether to choose a private or public cord blood bank. As with any major decision in your life, it pays to do your research so you can make the best choice for your family about the future of your baby’s cord blood.
The majority of programs that accept cord blood donations require the mother to sign up in advance. In the united States, the current requirement is to sign up by the 34th week of pregnancy. This cannot be over-stressed; time and time again, mothers who want to donate are turned away because they did not inquire about donation until it was too late.
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).
Umbilical cord blood is the blood left over in the placenta and in the umbilical cord after the birth of the baby. The cord blood is composed of all the elements found in whole blood. It contains red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, platelets and is also rich in hematopoietic stem cells. There are several methods for collecting cord blood. The method most commonly used in clinical practice is the “closed technique”, which is similar to standard blood collection techniques. With this method, the technician cannulates the vein of the severed umbilical cord using a needle that is connected to a blood bag, and cord blood flows through the needle into the bag. On average, the closed technique enables collection of about 75 ml of cord blood.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute jointly oversee the Cord Blood Donation Program to provide hope to all patients in need of a life-saving stem cell transplant. For more information about the stem cell transplant program please visit The Stem Cell/Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) web site.
New Jersey Cord Blood Bank can accept donations without pre-registration at participating hospitals that have on-site staff. Donations are also accepted from certain hospitals via partnerships with local charities.
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.
Of course, this means that expectant parents will have one more choice to make about their child’s health and future. “I certainly don’t think parents should feel guilty if they don’t privately bank their child’s blood,” Dr. Kurtzberg says. The best choice is the one that works for your family.
Today, cord blood stem cells have been used in more than 35,000 transplants worldwide to regenerate healthy blood and immune systems, like in a bone marrow transplant. 1* Find out which conditions have been treated here.
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.”
If siblings are a genetic match, a cord blood transplant is a simple procedure that is FDA approved to treat over 80 diseases. However, there are a few considerations you should make before deciding to only bank one of your children’s blood:
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