Umbilical cord blood can save lives. Cord blood is rich in stem cells that can morph into all sorts of blood cells, which can be used to treat diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and certain cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. There are a few ways for transplant patients to get blood cells (umbilical and placenta, bone marrow, peripheral/circulation), but cord blood is easier to match with patients, and because it is gathered during birth from the umbilical cord, it’s a painless procedure.
It depends on who you ask. Although commercial cord blood banks often bill their services as “biological insurance” against future diseases, the blood doesn’t often get used. One study says the chance that a child will use their cord blood over their lifetime is between 1 in 400 and 1 in 200,000.
“This is a medical service that has to be done when your baby’s cells arrive and you certainly want them to be handled by good equipment and good technicians,” says Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to educating parents about cord blood donation and cord blood therapists. “It’s just not going to be cheap.” Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states cord blood has been used to treat certain diseases successfully, there isn’t strong evidence to support cord blood banking. If a family does choose to bank cord blood, the AAP recommends public cord blood banking (instead of private) to reduce costs.
The syringe or bag should be pre-labeled with a unique number that identifies your baby. Cord blood may only be collected during the first 15 minutes following the birth and should be processed by the laboratory within 48 hours of collection.
There are over 130 public cord blood banks in 35 countries. They are regulated by Governments and adhere to internationally agreed standards regarding safety, sample quality and ethical issues. In the UK, several NHS facilities within the National Blood Service harvest and store altruistically donated umbilical cord blood. Trained staff, working separately from those providing care to the mother and newborn child, collect the cord blood. The mother may consent to donate the blood for research and/or clinical use and the cord blood bank will make the blood available for use as appropriate.
Because of the invasive procedure required to obtain the bone marrow, scientist continued to look for a better source, which eventually lead to the discovery of similar stem cells in cord blood in 1978. Cord blood was used in its first transplant in 1988, and cord blood has since been shown to be more advantageous than other means of acquiring similar stem cells and immune system cells. This is because umbilical cord blood can be considered naïve and immature compared to other sources. Cord blood has not been exposed to disease or environmental pollutants, and it is more accepting of foreign cells. In this case, inexperience makes it stronger.
The AMA also suggests considering private cord blood banking if there is a family history of malignant or genetic conditions that might benefit from cord blood stem cells. Keep in mind, however, that to find a suitable match for any type of transplant, 70% must look outside their family.
The Medical Letter On Drugs and Therapeutics also recently addressed aspects of public and private cord blood banks, asking the question: “Does Private Banking Make Sense?” After citing various statistics on the actual uses of privately stored cord blood, they concluded that: “At the present time, private storage of umbilical cord blood is unlikely to be worthwhile. Parents should be encouraged to contribute, when they can, to public cord blood banks instead.” [Access The Medical Letter at www.medicalletter.org].
The next step at either a public or family bank is to process the cord blood to separate the blood component holding stem cells. The final product has a volume of 25 milliliters and includes a cryoprotectant which prevents the cells from bursting when frozen. Typical cost, $250 to $300 per unit.
There are so many things to think about when you have a child. One of them is the blood from your baby’s umbilical cord (which connects the baby to the mother while in the womb). It used to be thrown away at birth, but now, many parents store the blood for the future health of their child. Should you do it?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
ViaCord’s Lab is FDA registered, AABB accredited, CLIA certified and equipped with the same freezers used by major research institutions such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
The Leading the Way LifeSaving Ambassadors Club is a recognition program honoring sponsor groups for outstanding performance in reaching or exceeding blood drive collections goals. CBC presents a Leading the Way plaque to winning sponsors on an annual basis. The award is based on three levels of achievement:
When you consider that public banks can only expect to ship 1-2% of their inventory for transplant, you can quickly understand why most public banks are struggling to make ends meet. That struggle means that fewer collection programs are staffed, and there are fewer opportunities for parents to donate to the public good. We said earlier that public banks only keep cord blood donations over a minimum of 900 million cells, but today most public banks have raised that threshold to 1.5 billion cells. The reason is that the largest units are the ones most likely to be used for transplants that bring income to the bank. Family cord blood banks do not need to impose volume thresholds because they have a profit margin on every unit banked.
The American Pediatric Association in 2008 recommended that physicians recommend that cord blood be donated instead of saved privately for family families. One of the major proponents for this was Joanne Kurtzberg, who profited from this by getting funding for her public cord blood bank at Duke University. She has since started her own private cord blood bank after doing more research on Cerebral Palsy. Interesting.
Is the blood stored as a single unit or in several samples? Freezing in portions is preferred so the blood can be tested for potential transplant use without thawing — and wasting — the entire sample.
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.
Beyond these blood-related disorders, the therapeutic potential of umbilical cord blood stem cells is unclear. No therapies for non-blood-related diseases have yet been developed using HSCs from either cord blood or adult bone marrow. There have been several reports suggesting that umbilical cord blood contains other types of stem cells that are able to produce cells from other tissues, such as nerve cells. Some other reports claim that umbilical cord blood contains embryonic stem cell-like cells. However, these findings are highly controversial among scientists and are not widely accepted.
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:
Medical staff at the public cord blood bank will check to see if you can donate. If you have had a disease that can be given to another person through blood-forming cells, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV (the AIDS virus), you will likely not be able to donate. However, other medical reasons may still allow you to donate, for example, hepatitis A or diabetes only during your pregnancy (gestational diabetes). The staff at the public cord blood bank will tell you.
In 1989, Cryo-Cell International was founded in Oldsmar, FL, making it the oldest cord blood bank in the world. By 1992, it began to store cord blood. In addition to pursuing a wide variety of accreditations (AABB, cGMP, and ISO 1345), it was the first private cord blood bank in the U.S. to be awarded FACT accreditation. In 2017, it initiated a $100,000 Engraftment Guarantee (previously $75,000), the highest quality guarantee of any U.S. cord blood bank.
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.