In New Zealand, a hopeful couple are participating in a study that will use one of their son’s cord blood stem cells to research treatment for another son’s cystic fibrosis. In Chicago, people are using their sibling’s stem cells to successfully treat sickle cell disease. And countless other families have banked their second child’s cord blood after their first child was diagnosed with leukemia. Many of those children are alive and well today thanks to their sibling’s stem cells. Since the first successful cord blood stem cell transplant on a sibling in 1988, over 30,000 cord blood transplants have been performed worldwide.
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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.
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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].
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
“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.
Lead image of baby’s umbilical cord from Wikimedia Commons. Possible human blood stem cell image by Rajeev Gupta and George Chennell. Remaining images of blood sample bags and red blood cells from Wellcome Images.
Another way scientists are working with stem cells is through expansion technologies that spur replication of the cord blood stem cells. If proven effective and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these expansion technologies will allow scientists to culture many stem cells from a small sample. This could provide doctors and researchers with enough stem cells to treat multiple family members with one cord blood collection or provide the baby with multiple treatments over time. To better prepare for the day when these expansion technologies are more easily accessible, some cord blood banks have begun to separate their cord blood collections into separate compartments, which can easily be detached from the rest of the collection and used independently. You can learn more about Cryo-Cell’s five-chambered storage bag here.
Experts believe that umbilical cord blood is an important source of blood stem cells and expect that its full potential for treatment of blood disorders is yet to be revealed. Other types of stem cell such as induced pluripotent stem cells may prove to be better suited to treating non-blood-related diseases, but this question can only be answered by further research.
Cord Blood Registry offers two ways to save your newborn’s stem cells, and convenient payment options to fit your family’s needs. CBR recognizes that each family’s budget is unique. As a result, CBR does not take a one-size-fits-all approach to pricing and payments for cord blood and tissue banking. Calculate your stem cell banking costs and CBR will recommend payment plans that may fit your family’s budget.
In fact, the AAP does encourage parents to keep their child’s cord blood if a family member has already been diagnosed with a stem-cell-treatable disease. But a family won’t have to foot the bill: The Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, in California, will bank a baby’s cord blood for free if a family member needs it at the time of the baby’s birth. Some private banks, such as Cord Blood Registry, Cryo-Cell, and ViaCord, have similar programs.
Georgia Regents University is conducting an FDA-regulated phase I/II clinical trial to assess whether an infusion of autologous stem cells derived from their own cord blood can improve the quality of life for children with cerebral palsy.
There are over 130 public cord blood banks in 35 countries. They are regulated by Governments and adhere to internationally agreed standards regarding safety, sample quality and ethical issues. In the UK, several NHS facilities within the National Blood Service harvest and store altruistically donated umbilical cord blood. Trained staff, working separately from those providing care to the mother and newborn child, collect the cord blood. The mother may consent to donate the blood for research and/or clinical use and the cord blood bank will make the blood available for use as appropriate.
Cord blood contains mesenchymal stem cells but is much more abundant in hematopoietic stem cells. Cord tissue, on the other hand, contains some hematopoietic stem cells but is much richer in mesenchymal stem cells. Cord tissue, or Wharton’s jelly, is the protective layer that covers the umbilical cord’s vein and other vessels. Its MSCs can become a host of cells including those found in the nervous system, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, skin, bone, cartilage, and more. MSCs are currently undergoing clinical trials for sports injuries, heart and kidney disease, ALS, wound healing and autoimmune disease. As with cord blood, cord tissue is easily collected at the type of birth and holds great potential in regenerative medicine. Learn more about cord tissue banking here.
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Families have the additional option of storing a section of the umbilical cord, which is rich in unique and powerful stem cells that may help repair and heal the body in different ways than stem cells derived from cord blood.
With the consent of the parents, blood can be collected from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby shortly after birth. This does not hurt the baby or the mother in any way, and it is blood that would otherwise be discarded as biological waste along with the placenta (another rich source of stem cells) after the birth.
After a baby is born, cord blood is left in the umbilical cord and placenta. It is relatively easy to collect, with no risk to the mother or baby. It contains haematopoietic (blood) stem cells: rare cells normally found in the bone marrow.
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:
2 Cordblood.com, (2014). Cord Blood Stem Cell Banking | Cord Blood Registry | CBR. [online] Available at: http://www.cordblood.com/cord-blood-banking-cost/cord-blood-stem-cells [Accessed 22 March. 2017].
Cord blood is also being studied as a substitute for normal blood transfusions in the developing world. More research is necessary prior to the generalized utilization of cord blood transfusion.
Life Line Stem Cell asks mothers arriving for delivery to donate all perinatal tissue: cord blood, cord tissue, and the placenta. Cord blood donations that are eligible for transplant are sent to a public cord blood bank; the tissue collections go towards research programs.
Excitement about cord tissue’s potential to help conditions affecting cartilage, muscle and nerve cells continues to grow.19 Researchers are focusing on a wide range of potential treatment areas, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, liver fibrosis, lung cancer, and sports injuries. Since 2007 there have been 150 clinical trials using cord tissue stem cells.
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.
 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.
Both public and family cord blood banks must register with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and since Oct. 2011 public banks also need to apply for an FDA license. All cord blood banks are required by federal law to test the blood of the mother for infectious diseases. At public banks the screening is usually more extensive, similar to the tests performed when you donate blood. The typical expense to a public bank is $150 per unit.
Stem cells are amazingly powerful. They have the ability to divide and renew themselves and are capable turning into specific types of specialized cells – like blood or nerve. After all, these are the cells responsible for the development of your baby’s organs, tissue and immune system