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Umbilical cord blood was once discarded as waste material but is now known to be a useful source of blood stem cells. Cord blood has been used to treat children with certain blood diseases since 1989 and research on using it to treat adults is making progress. So what are the current challenges for cord blood research and how may it be used – now and in the future?
Cord Blood banking is a confusing topic. Many parents get bombarded with information when searching to see if cord blood banking is right for them. There is information that private cord blood banking companies, like Viacord and Cord Blood Registry, will not tell you, until now.
Current research aims to answer these questions in order to establish whether safe and effective treatments for non-blood diseases could be developed in the future using cord blood. An early clinical trial investigating cord blood treatment of childhood type 1 diabetes was unsuccessful. Other very early stage clinical trials are now exploring the use of cord blood transplants to treat children with brain disorders such as cerebral palsy or traumatic brain injury. However, such trials have not yet shown any positive effects and most scientists believe much more laboratory research is needed to understand how cord blood cells behave and whether they may be useful in these kinds of treatments
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.
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Cord blood in public banks is available to unrelated patients who need haematopoietic stem cell transplants. Some banks, such as the NHS bank in the UK, also collect and store umbilical cord blood from children born into families affected by or at risk of a disease for which haematopoietic stem cell transplants may be necessary – either for the child, a sibling or a family member. It is also possible to pay to store cord blood in a private bank for use by your own family only.
AutoXpress™ Platform (AXP) cord blood processing results in a red-cell reduced stem cell product. Each sample is stored in a cryobag consisting of two compartments (one major and one minor) and two integrally attached segments used for unit testing.
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.
The cord blood collection process is simple, safe, and painless. The process usually takes no longer than five minutes. Cord blood collection does not interfere with delivery and is possible with both vaginal and cesarean deliveries.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In addition, CBR offers Genetic Counselors on staff to help families make informed decisions about newborn stem cell banking. Phone 1-888-CORDBLOOD1-888-CORDBLOOD to speak with a CBR Genetic Counselor.
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.
‡ 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.
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.
The unpredictability of stem cell transportation led CBR to create a crush-resistant, temperature-protected, and electronically tracked collection kit that is designed to preserve the integrity and to help ensure the safe delivery of the blood and/or tissue. CBR’s CellAdvantage® Collection Kit contains everything the healthcare provider needs to easily and safely collect the maximum amount of a newborn’s cord blood following birth.
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.
The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. The purpose of this is to help with education and create better conversations between patients and their healthcare providers.
Your free donation will be part of a program that is saving lives and supporting research to discover new uses for cord blood stem cells. Units that meet criteria for storage are made available to anyone, anywhere in the world, who needs a stem cell transplant.
It’s possible that storing your child’s cord blood cells now may be useful one day in combating these diseases. For now, these treatments are only theoretical. It’s also not clear if stem cells from cord blood — as opposed to stem cells from other sources — will be useful in these potential treatments.
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.
Frances Verter, PhD, founded the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood in 1998 and has been a Scientific Advisor to Community Blood Services since 2007. In 2011 the NMDP presented her with their Lifeline Award in recognition of her efforts to improve public education about cord blood donation.
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.