Umbilical cord blood is blood that remains in the placenta and in the attached umbilical cord after childbirth. Cord blood is collected because it contains stem cells, which can be used to treat hematopoietic and genetic disorders.
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Your baby isn’t the only one who may benefit from having access to preserved newborn stem cells. The cells can potentially be used by siblings and parents, too. In many cord blood treatments, stem cells from a matched family member are preferred.
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.
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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.
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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.
You’ve just visited the doctor and the good news is that you’re going to have a baby and everything looks good. Thirty years ago, your doctor may have given you a baby book and information about products that sponsors want you to buy for your new addition. Today, along with pretty much the same materials, you’ll be asked to consider saving the blood of your newborn that’s left over in the umbilical cord and placenta after the delivery. Another big decision, and possibly a costly one.
When an immediate family member has a disease that requires a stem cell transplant, cord blood from a newborn baby in the family may be the best option. There is a 25% chance, for example, that cord blood will be a perfect match for a sibling, because each child shares one of its two HLA genes with each parent. Occasionally cord blood will be a good match for a parent if, by chance, both parents share some of the six HLA antigens. The baby’s cord blood is less likely to be a good match for more distant relatives. The inventories of unrelated cord blood units in public cord blood banks are more likely to provide appropriate matches for parents and distant relatives, as well as for siblings that do not match.
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.
There have been several reports suggesting that cord blood may contain other types of stem cells which can produce specialised cells that do not belong to the blood, such as nerve cells. These findings are highly controversial among scientists and are not widely accepted.
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
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.
However, parents should know that a child’s own cord blood (stored at birth), would rarely be suitable for a transplant today. It could not be used at present to treat genetic diseases, for example, because the cord blood stem cells carry the same affected genes and. if transplanted, would confer the same condition to the recipient. (See the story of Anthony Dones.) In addition, most transplant physicians would not use a child’s own cord blood to treat leukemia. There are two reasons why the child’s own cord blood is not safe as a transplant source. First, in most cases of childhood leukemia, cells carrying the leukemic mutation are already present at birth and can be demonstrated in the cord blood. Thus, pre-leukemic cells may be given back with the transplant, since there is no effective way to remove them (purge) today. Second, in a child with leukemia, the immune system has already failed to prevent leukemia. Since cord blood from the same child re-establishes the child’s own immune system, doctors fear it would have a poor anti-leukemia effect.
What’s more, few cord-blood transplants have been given to adults because most units haven’t contained enough stem cells to treat anyone weighing more than 90 pounds, says Joanne Kurtzberg, MD, program director of the division of pediatric blood and marrow transplantation at Duke University Medical Center. And since the procedure is relatively new, no one knows how many years the frozen units will remain viable.
When the medical courier delivers the cord blood collection kit to the cord blood bank, it is quickly processed to ensure the continued viability of the stem cells and immune system cells found in the cord blood. Firstly, a sample of the cord blood is tested for microbiological contamination, and the mother’s blood is tested for infectious diseases. As these tests are being conducted, the cord blood is processed to reduce the number of red blood cells and its total volume and isolate the stem cells and immune cells.
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.
Prior to freezing the cells, samples are taken for quality testing. Banks measure the number of cells that are positive for the CD34 marker, a protein that is used to estimate the number of blood-forming stem cells present. Typical cost, $150 to $200 per unit. They also measure the number of nucleated cells, another measure of stem cells, both before and after processing to determine the cell recovery rate. Typical expense, $35 per unit. A portion of the sample is submitted to check that there is no bacterial or fungal contamination. Typical expense, $75 per unit. Public banks will also check the ability of the sample to grow new cells by taking a culture called the CFU assay. Typical expense, $200 to $250 per unit.
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.
Cord Blood Registry® (CBR®) is the world’s largest newborn stem cell company. Founded in 1992, CBR is entrusted by parents with storing samples from more than 600,000 children. CBR is dedicated to advancing the clinical application of cord blood and cord tissue stem cells by partnering with institutions to establish FDA-regulated clinical trials for conditions that have no cure today.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.
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.
In terms of performance, our PrepaCyte-CB processing method has taken the lead. PrepaCyte-CB greatly improves on parents’ returns on investment because it yields the highest number of stem cells while showing the greatest reduction in red blood cells.1–4 Clinical transplant data show that cord blood processed with PrepaCyte-CB engrafts more quickly than other processing methods.7 This means patients may start feeling better more quickly, may spend less time in the hospital and are less likely to suffer from an infection. The ability to get better more quickly and a reduced chance of infection can prove vital in certain cases. Learn more about PrepaCyte®-CB here.
According to Cord Blood Registry, cord blood is defined as “the blood that remains in your baby’s umbilical cord after the cord has been cut, is a rich source of unique stem cells that can be used in medical treatments.” Cord blood has been shown to help treat over 80 diseases, such as leukemia, other cancers, and blood disorders. This cord blood, which can be safely removed from your newborn’s already-cut umbilical cord, can be privately stored for the purpose of possible use in the future for your child or family member. (It can also be donated to a public bank, but this is not widely available)
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.
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.
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.
In fact, the shocking truth is that the majority of all cord blood stored in private banks may be unusable. Approximately 75 percent of the units donated to public banks are discarded or used in research because they don’t contain enough stem cells for transplants, says Mary Halet, manager of cord-blood operations for the Center for Cord Blood at the National Marrow Donor Program, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that maintains the nation’s largest public supply of cord blood. Yet private banks store every unit they collect, which means that you might pay to store blood that won’t be usable if you need it years later.
There are several cord blood banks that are accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks. Most offer information on cord blood banking and provide private cord blood banking services. With a little research, you should be able to locate a credible cord blood bank online.
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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.
While many diseases can be treated with a cord blood transplant, most require stem cells from another donor (allogeneic). Cord blood cells taken from the patient (autologous) typically contain the same defect or precancerous cells that caused the patient to need the transplant in the first place. Most medical professionals believe the chance that cord blood banking will be utilized by the patient or a close relative is relatively low. Estimates range from 1 out of 1,000 to 1 out of 200,000. From these estimates, privately stored cord blood is not likely to be utilized by the average family. The American Academy of Pediatrics has discouraged cord blood banking for self-use, since most diseases requiring stem cell transplants are already present in the cord blood stem cells. Additionally, a recent study published in Pediatrics indicates that few transplants have been performed using privately stored cord blood. From the responses of 93 transplant physicians, in only 50 cases was privately banked blood used. In 9 of these cases the cord blood was transplanted back into the donor patient (autologous transplant). One of the main selling points of private cord blood banks is the possibility of a future autologous transplant.
Not surprisingly, this emotional pitch is working — especially because the seemingly unlimited potential of stem cells has dominated the news in recent years. From 2003 to 2004, for example, the number of couples opting to use a private bank increased by 55 percent to 271,000. The three biggest companies — who have the majority of the approximately $250 million market — are vying for business.