Once considered medical waste, the blood left in the umbilical cord after a baby’s delivery is now known to be a rich source of stem cells similar to those in bone marrow. It’s been used in transplants to treat more than 70 different diseases including leukemia, lymphoma, sickle-cell disease, and some metabolic disorders. Unlike with marrow, which is obtained through a painful medical procedure and replenished by the body, there’s only one chance to collect this seemingly magical elixir: immediately after a baby’s birth.
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.
Bone marrow and similar sources often requires an invasive, surgical procedure and one’s own stem cells may already have become diseased, which means the patient will have to find matching stem cells from another family member or unrelated donor. This will increase the risk of GvHD. In addition, finding an unrelated matched donor can be difficult, and once a match is ascertained, it may take valuable weeks, even months, to retrieve. Learn more about why cord blood is preferred to the next best source, bone marrow.
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.
“One of the wonderful things about cord blood is that unlike bone marrow, you don’t always need a perfect match in order for it to work,” says Dr. Kurtzberg, who performed the first unrelated cord-blood transplant in the U.S. And it was a public donation that ultimately saved Anthony Dones. Within a week of starting a search, the National Cord Blood Program, a public bank operated by the New York Blood Center, found a “close enough” match. Had the now-3-year-old been forced to rely on a bone-marrow match, he might still be waiting.
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.
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.
Prices subject to change until they are paid. Fees apply to single-birth, U.S. customers only. Cancellation fees may apply. All major credit cards accepted. Payment plans cover first-year fees only; future annual storage fees are not included. If not paying by credit/debit card, total first year fees are due at the time of enrollment.
They aren’t the only ones questioning the business practices of private cord-blood banks. Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued statements in the late 1990s opposing the use of for-profit banks — and criticizing their marketing tactics. Instead, they recommended that parents donate cord blood to public banks, which make it available for free to anyone who needs it. Globally, other organizations have done the same. Italy and France have banned private cord-blood banking altogether.
Your own cord blood will always be accessible. This applies only if you pay to store your cord blood at a private bank. The blood is reserved for your own family; nobody else can access or use it, and it will never be allotted to another family or be donated to research. If you donate your cord blood to a public bank, on the other hand, anyone who needs compatible cord blood can have it; there’s no guarantee that it will be available if and when your family needs it.
As noted earlier, with better matching, there is a greater chance of success and less risk of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) in any stem cell transplant. With cord blood, the baby’s own cells are always a perfect match and share little risk. When using cord blood across identical twins, there is also a very low chance of GvHD although mutations and biological changes caused by epigenetic factors can occur. Other blood-related family members have a 35%–45% chance of GvHD, and unrelated persons have a 60%–80% chance of suffering from GvHD.
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.
To save money, public banks will not even process a cord blood donation unless they know in advance that they are going to keep it. When the collection first arrives at the lab, it is passed through a cell counting machine. Only collections that have at least 900 million nucleated cells are kept. As a result, over 60%-80% of cord blood donations are discarded. The public bank must absorb the expense of the collection kit and delivery charges for discarded blood; typically $100 per unit.
 American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Hematology/Oncology, American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Allergy/Immunology, Bertram H. Lubin, and William T. Shearer, “Cord Blood Banking for Potential Future Transplantation,” Pediatrics 119 (2007): 165-170.
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports efforts to provide information about the potential benefits and limitations of cord blood banking and transplantation so that parents can make an informed decision. In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that if a patient requests information on umbilical cord blood banking, balanced information should be given. Cord blood education is also supported by legislators at the federal and state levels. In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences published an Institute of Medicine (IoM) report titled “Establishing a National Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank Program”.
Cord Blood Registry is a registered trademark of CBR® Systems, Inc. Annual grant support for Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation is made possible by CBR® through the Newborn Possibilities Fund administered by Tides Foundation.
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.
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The longest study to date, published in 2011 by Broxmeyer at al found that stem cells cyro-preserved for 22.5 years engrafted as expected. There was no significant loss of stem cell recovery or proliferation.
Cord blood is currently approved by the FDA for the treatment for nearly 80 diseases, and cord blood treatments have been performed more than 35,000 times around the globe to treat cancers (including lymphoma and leukemia), anemias, inherited metabolic disorders and some solid tumors and orthopedic repair. Researchers are also exploring how cord blood has the ability to cross the blood–brain barrier and differentiate into neurons and other brain cells, which may be instrumental in treating conditions that have been untreatable up to this point. The most exciting of these are autism, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s.
If you want the blood stored, after the birth, the doctor clamps the umbilical cord in two places, about 10 inches apart, and cuts the cord, separating mother from baby. Then she inserts a needle and collects at least 40 milliliters of blood from the cord. The blood is sealed in a bag and sent to a lab or cord blood bank for testing and storage. The process only takes a few minutes and is painless for mother and baby.
Tissue typed and listed on the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®. (The registry is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. When a patient needs a transplant, the registry is searched to find a matching marrow donor or cord blood unit.)
Once it arrives at the storage facility, the cord blood will be processed and placed in storage. The cord blood will either be completely immersed in liquid nitrogen or it will be stored in nitrogen vapor.
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:
Use for Family Siblings gain access to the stem cells, too. They have a one-in-four chance of being a perfect match amd a 39% chance of being a transplant-acceptable match. Parents have a 100 pecent chance of being a partial match. The chances of recovering the donated stem cells for a family memeber is also diminished greatly as described above. Siblings = 75% chance of acceptable match
We believe that every family should have the opportunity to preserve their baby’s newborn stem cells. That’s why CBR offers transparent costs of cord blood banking, and various payment options to fit this important step into almost every family budget.
Donating your baby’s umbilical cord blood may offer a precious resource to a patient in need of a life-saving stem cell transplant. Umbilical cord blood is rich in blood-forming stem cells, which can renew themselves and grow into mature blood cells. After your baby is born, these cord blood cells can be collected, preserved and later used as a source of stem cells for transplantation for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other life-threatening blood diseases.
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 Ian Thornley, Mary Eapen, Lillian Sung, Stephanie J. Lee, Stella M. Davies and Steven Joffe, “Private cord blood banking: experiences and views of pediatric hematopoietic cell transplantation physicians,” Pediatrics 123 (2009): 1011-1017.
Most public banks only work with selected hospitals in their community. They do this because they need to train the staff who will collect the cord blood, and they want the blood to be transported to their laboratory as quickly as possible. A parent who wants to donate should start by finding public banks in your country.
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Cord tissue use is still in early research stages, and there is no guarantee that treatments using cord tissue will be available in the future. Cord tissue is stored whole. Additional processing prior to use will be required to extract and prepare any of the multiple cell types from cryopreserved cord tissue. Cbr Systems, Inc.’s activities for New York State residents are limited to collection of umbilical cord tissue and long-term storage of umbilical cord–derived stem cells. Cbr Systems, Inc.’s possession of a New York State license for such collection and long-term storage does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of these cells.
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.
When a child develops a condition that can be treated with stem cells, they undergo transplant. A doctor infuses stem cells from cord blood or bone marrow into the patient’s bloodstream, where they will turn into cells that fight the disease and repair damaged cells—essentially, they replace and rejuvenate the existing immune system.
The umbilical cord blood contains haematopoietic stem cells – similar to those found in the bone marrow – and which can be used to generate red blood cells and cells of the immune system. Cord blood stem cells are currently used to treat a range of blood disorders and immune system conditions such as leukaemia, anaemia and autoimmune diseases. These stem cells are used largely in the treatment of children but have also started being used in adults following chemotherapy treatment.
When all the processing and testing is complete, the cord blood stem cells are frozen in cryogenic nitrogen freezers at -196° C until they are requested for patient therapy. Public banks are required to complete the entire laboratory processing and freeze the cord blood stem cells within 48 hours of collection. This is to insure the highest level of stem cell viability. The accreditation agencies allow family banks a window of 72 hours.
Generally not. The reason siblings are more likely to match is because they get half of their HLA markers from each parent. Based on the way parents pass on genes, there is a 25 percent chance that two siblings will be a whole match, a 50 percent chance they will be a half match, and a 25 percent chance that they will not be a match at all. It is very rare for a parent to be a match with their own child, and even more rare for a grandparent to be a match.
In Europe, Canada, and Australia use of cord blood is regulated as well. In the United Kingdom the NHS Cord Blood Bank was set up in 1996 to collect, process, store and supply cord blood; it is a public cord blood bank and part of the NHS.
Use for Donor Clients can rest assured knowing their cord blood is available if needed. Always available if needed. Donors may never find the stem cells donated if ever needed because of the following:
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.
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.