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.”
Carolinas Cord Blood Bank at Duke (CCBB) is headed by Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg. Expectant parents who have a child in need of therapy with cord blood, especially the new therapies in clinical trials at Duke, may be eligible for directed donation through CCBB.
Banked cord blood is most abundant in white blood cells and stem cells. While a lot of attention is paid to the stem cells, there are approximately 10 times more total nucleated cells (TNCs) than stem cells in any cord blood collection. TNCs are basically white blood cells, or leukocytes; they are the cells of the immune system that protect the body. Despite stem cells comprising one-tenth of most collections, cord blood is still considered a rich source of hematopoietic (he-mah-toe-po-ee-tic) stem cells (HSCs). HSCs are often designated by the marker CD34+. Hematopoietic stem cells can become two categories of cells: myeloid and lymphoid cells. Myeloid cells go on to form your red blood cells, platelets, and other cells of the blood. Lymphoid cells go on to become the B cells and T cells and are the basis for the immune system. Cord blood also contains mesenchymal (meh-sen-ki-mal) stem cells (MSCs), but they are much more abundant in cord tissue, which we will discuss in a minute.
Though uses of cord blood beyond blood and immunological disorders is speculative, some research has been done in other areas. Any such potential beyond blood and immunological uses is limited by the fact that cord cells are hematopoietic stem cells (which can differentiate only into blood cells), and not pluripotent stem cells (such as embryonic stem cells, which can differentiate into any type of tissue). Cord blood has been studied as a treatment for diabetes. However, apart from blood disorders, the use of cord blood for other diseases is not in routine clinical use and remains a major challenge for the stem cell community.
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:
However, cord blood transplants also have limitations. Treatment of adults with cord blood typically requires two units of cord blood to treat one adult. Clinical trials using “double cord blood transplantation” for adults have demonstrated outcomes similar to use of other sources of HSCs, such as bone marrow or mobilized peripheral blood. Current studies are being done to expand a single cord blood unit for use in adults. Cord blood can also only be used to treat blood diseases. No therapies for non-blood-related diseases have yet been developed using HSCs from either cord blood or adult bone marrow.
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.
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.
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.
Stem Cell Storage is not included in their price. Viacord and Cord Blood Registry both charge for annual storage. This means that when you pay for your initial cord blood and/or cord tissue storage you will also have to pay annually for storage.
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.
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.
Are public banks and family banks the same, except for who may use the cord blood and the cost to the parents? No. Public banks are subject to much higher regulatory requirements, and compliance with regulations carries costs. At a family bank you pay the bank enough to cover the cost of storing your baby’s cord blood, plus they make a profit. When you donate to a public bank, it costs you nothing, but the bank pays more on processing each blood collection than at a family bank. Let’s look at the steps that take place in the laboratory.
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.
* Disclaimer: Banking cord blood does not guarantee that treatment will work and only a doctor can determine when it can be used. Cord tissue stem cells are not approved for use in treatment, but research is ongoing.
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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.
The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act was passed in 2005, which supports building a public reserve of 150,000 cord blood units from ethnically diverse donors in order to treat more than 90% of patients in need of HSC transplants. Donors from ethnic minority patients are particularly in need due to the greater variation of HLA-types in non-Caucasian ethnicities. Thirty-five percent of cord blood units go to patients of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.
A cord blood bank may be private (i.e. the blood is stored for and the costs paid by donor families) or public (i.e. stored and made available for use by unrelated donors). While public cord blood banking is widely supported, private cord banking is controversial in both the medical and parenting community. Although umbilical cord blood is well-recognized to be useful for treating hematopoietic and genetic disorders, some controversy surrounds the collection and storage of umbilical cord blood by private banks for the baby’s use. Only a small percentage of babies (estimated at between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000) ever use the umbilical cord blood that is stored. The American Academy of Pediatrics 2007 Policy Statement on Cord Blood Banking stated: “Physicians should be aware of the unsubstantiated claims of private cord blood banks made to future parents that promise to insure infants or family members against serious illnesses in the future by use of the stem cells contained in cord blood.” and “private storage of cord blood as ‘biological insurance’ is unwise” unless there is a family member with a current or potential need to undergo a stem cell transplantation. The American Academy of Pediatrics also notes that the odds of using a person’s own cord blood is 1 in 200,000 while the Institute of Medicine says that only 14 such procedures have ever been performed.
For families who wish to donate cord blood to a public bank, the biggest hurdle may be finding a nearby hospital that collects cord blood for donation. Most public banks only work with select hospitals in their community. In the U.S., there are only about 200 hospitals that collect cord blood donations. Find out if there is a donation hospital near you.
There has been considerable debate about the ethical and practical implications of commercial versus public banking. The main arguments against commercial banking have to do with questions about how likely it is that the cord blood will be used by an individual child, a sibling or a family member; the existence of several well-established alternatives to cord blood transplantation and the lack of scientific evidence that cord blood may be used to treat non-blood diseases (such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease). In some cases patients may not be able to receive their own cord blood, as the cells may already contain the genetic changes that predispose them to disease.
“This reanalysis supports several previously expressed opinions that autologous [to use one’s OWN cells] banking of cord blood privately as a biological insurance for the treatment of life-threatening diseases in children and young adults is not clinically justified because the chances of ever using it are remote. The absence of published peer-reviewed evidence raises the serious ethical concern of a failure to inform prospective parents about the lack of future benefit for autologous cord banking … Attempts to justify this [commercial cord blood banking] are based on the success of unrelated public domain cord banking and allogeneic [using someone ELSE’S cells] cord blood transplantation, and not on the use of autologous [the person’s OWN cells] cord transplantation, the efficacy of which remains unproven”.
A major limitation of cord blood transplantation is that the blood obtained from a single umbilical cord does not contain as many haematopoeitic stem cells as a bone marrow donation. Scientists believe this is the main reason that treating adult patients with cord blood is so difficult: adults are larger and need more HSCs than children. A transplant containing too few HSCs may fail or could lead to slow formation of new blood in the body in the early days after transplantation. This serious complication has been partially overcome by transplanting blood from two umbilical cords into larger children and adults. Results of clinical trials into double cord blood transplants (in place of bone marrow transplants) have shown the technique to be very successful. Some researchers have also tried to increase the total number of HSCs obtained from each umbilical cord by collecting additional blood from the placenta.
Certainly, there are plenty of doctors who have high hopes for stem-cell advances and advise patients to consider cord-blood banking. When private banks first started sending him informational packets, Jordan Perlow, MD, a maternal-fetal specialist in Phoenix, assumed they were just trying to profit from parents’ anxieties. But after attending medical conferences and scrutinizing studies about developments in stem-cell therapies, Dr. Perlow now encourages his patients to privately bank if they can afford it because he’s convinced that it might save their child’s life or the life of another family member. “If private banking had been available when my children were born, I would have done it,” he says.
Preserving stem cells does not guarantee that the saved stem cells will be applicable for every situation. Ultimate use will be determined by a physician. Please note: Americord Registry’s activities are limited to collection of umbilical cord tissue from autologous donors. Americord Registry’s possession of a New York State license for such collection does not indicate approval or endorsement of possible future uses or future suitability of cells derived from umbilical cord tissue.
Umbilical cord blood contains haematopoietic (blood) stem cells. These cells are able to make the different types of cell in the blood – red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Haematopoietic stem cells, purified from bone marrow or blood, have long been used in stem cell treatments for leukaemia, blood and bone marrow disorders, cancer (when chemotherapy is used) and immune deficiencies.
A large challenge facing many areas of medical research and treatments is correcting misinformation. Some companies advertise services to parents suggesting they should pay to freeze their child’s cord blood in a blood bank in case it’s needed later in life. Studies show it is highly unlikely that the cord blood will ever be used for their child. However, clinicians strongly support donating cord blood to public blood banks. This greatly helps increase the supply of cord blood to people who need it.
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.
^ Caseiro, AR; Pereira, T; Ivanova, G; Luís, AL; Maurício, AC (2016). “Neuromuscular Regeneration: Perspective on the Application of Mesenchymal Stem Cells and Their Secretion Products”. Stem Cells International. 2016: 9756973. doi:10.1155/2016/9756973. PMC 4736584 . PMID 26880998.
The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) has also adopted a position on the ethical aspects of umbilical cord blood banking. The EGE is of the opinion that “support for public cord blood banks for allogeneic transplantations should be increased and long term functioning should be assured.” They further stated that “the legitimacy of commercial cord blood banks for autologous use should be questioned as they sell a service which has presently no real use regarding therapeutic options.”
Private cord blood banks allow families to store cord blood stem cells for themselves and their loved ones. They are privately funded, and typically charge a first-year processing fee that ranges from about $1,400 to $2,300, plus annual storage costs of about $115 to $175. (Americord offers cord blood banking for a one-time fee of $3,499, which includes 20 years of storage). The pros and cons of private cord blood banking are listed below.
Are there situations where private cord blood banking might make sense? Some parents choose to bank their child’s blood if they don’t know his or her medical background — for instance, if a parent was adopted or the child was conceived with a sperm or egg donor.
‡ Payment Plan Disclosures for in-house CBR 6-Month Plan (interest free) – No credit check required. The 6-month plan requires a $10/month administrative fee. The plans may be prepaid in full at any time.
Founded in 1992, CBR has stored more than 600,000 cord blood and cord tissue collections from 3,500 hospitals in over 100 countries and partnered with institutions to establish multiple FDA-regulated clinical trials. CBR has helped more than 400 families use their cord blood stem cells for established and experimental medical treatments, more than any other family cord blood bank. CBR’s goal is to expand the potential scope of newborn stem cell therapies that may be available to patients and their families.
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.
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.
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.