It would be possible for a healthy child’s cord blood to be used to treat a sibling with leukemia, but the banks’ literature doesn’t spell out that distinction. In the last 10 years, almost all of the approximately 70 cord-blood transplants that have used privately stored blood were given to relatives with preexisting conditions, not to the donors themselves.
Adverse effects are similar to hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, namely graft-versus-host disease if the cord blood is from a genetically different person, and the risk of severe infection while the immune system is reconstituted. There is a lower incidence with cord blood compared with traditional HSCT, despite less stringent HLA match requirements. 
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.
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.
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.
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.
When considering cord blood, cord tissue, and placenta tissue banking, you want all of the facts. Americord’s® Cord Blood Comparison Chart gives you information not only on our costs and services, but also on how other companies measure up.
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].
Up to 180 mL of blood can be taken from an umbilical cord for use in stem cell transplants. Due to the experimental nature of cord blood transplants, such transplants are considered on a case-by-case basis. This blood is collected from the umbilical cord, processed, and cryogenically preserved shortly after the umbilical cord is clamped. This blood can be cryogenically preserved for public or private (family) use. Public registries store cord blood donated for availability to the general public for transplantation. Private registries store cord blood on behalf of families who wish to use this blood for the donor infant, siblings, or other family members. Private cord blood banks charge a collection fee (ranging from $1,000-2,000) and an annual storage fee (approximately $150 per year).
To prevent graft-versus-host disease and help ensure engraftment, the stem cells being transfused need to match the cells of the patient completely or to a certain degree (depending on what is being treated). Cord blood taken from a baby’s umbilical cord is always a perfect match for the baby. In addition, immediate family members are more likely to also be a match for the banked cord blood. Siblings have a 25 percent chance of being a perfect match and a 50 percent chance of being a partial match. Parents, who each provide half the markers used in matching, have a 100% chance of being a partial match. Even aunts, uncles, grandparents and other extended family members have a higher probability of being a match and could possibly benefit from the banked cord blood. Read more reasons why you should bank cord blood.
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.
In March 2004, the European Union Group on Ethics (EGE) has issued Opinion No.19 titled Ethical Aspects of Umbilical Cord Blood Banking. The EGE concluded that “[t]he 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. Thus they promise more than they can deliver. The activities of such banks raise serious ethical criticisms.”
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.
The first cord blood transplant was performed in Paris on October 6, 1988. Since that time, over 1 million cord blood units have been collected and stored in public and family banks all over the world.
Stem cells from cord blood can be used for the newborn, their siblings, and potetinally other relatives. Patients with genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, cannot use their own cord blood and will need stem cells from a sibling’s cord blood. In the case of leukemia or other blood disorders, a child can use either their own cord blood or their sibling’s for treatment.
In Europe and other parts of the world, cord blood banking is more often referred to as stem cell banking. As banking cord blood is designed more to collect the blood-forming stem cells and not the actual blood cells themselves, this term may be more appropriate.
In this way, cord blood offers a useful alternative to bone marrow transplants for some patients. It is easier to collect than bone marrow and can be stored frozen until it is needed. It also seems to be less likely than bone marrow to cause immune rejection or complications such as Graft versus Host Disease. This means that cord blood does not need to be as perfectly matched to the patient as bone marrow (though some matching is still necessary).
The first successful cord blood transplant (CBT) was done in 1988 in a child with Fanconi anemia. Early efforts to use CBT in adults led to mortality rates of about 50%, due somewhat to the procedure being done in very sick people, but perhaps also due to slow development of immune cells from the transplant. By 2013, 30,000 CBT procedures had been performed and banks held about 600,000 units of cord blood.
If you are interested in donating cord blood to a public bank and do not have access to a hospital that accepts cord blood donations, you can contact a lab that offers a mail-in program. After you’ve passed the lab’s eligibility screening process, they’ll send you a kit that you can use to package and mail in your cord blood.2
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)
Public cord blood banking supports the health of the community. Public banks collect qualifying cord blood donations from healthy pregnancies and save them in case one of them will be the match to save the life of a patient who needs a stem cell transplant. In the United States our registry of donors is called Be The Match. Patients who have a rare genetic type are more likely to receive cord blood transplants. In order for parents to donate cord blood to a public bank, their baby must be born at a hospital that accepts donations. Public cord blood banking is highly recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Medical Association (AMA).
Part of the reason for the dominance of these three companies in terms of the total number of units stored is that they are three of the oldest cord blood banks within the U.S., founded in 1992, 1993, and 1989, respectively. All three of these cord blood banks also support cord blood research and clinical trials.
“Raising a family is expensive enough,” says Jeffrey Ecker, MD, director of obstetrical clinical research at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, and a member of ACOG’s ethics committee. “There’s no reason for parents to take on this additional financial burden when there’s little chance of a child ever using his own cord blood.”
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.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 2009 issue of Dignitas, the Center’s quarterly publication. Subscriptions to Dignitas are available to CBHD Members. To learn more about the benefits of becoming a member click here.
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.
Along with cord blood, Wharton’s jelly and the cord lining have been explored as sources for mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), and as of 2015 had been studied in vitro, in animal models, and in early stage clinical trials for cardiovascular diseases, as well as neurological deficits, liver diseases, immune system diseases, diabetes, lung injury, kidney injury, and leukemia.
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.
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.
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.