Cade Hildreth is the Founder of BioInformant.com, the world’s largest publisher of stem cell industry news. Cade is a media expert on stem cells, recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Business Journal, Xconomy, and Vogue Magazine.
If siblings are a genetic match, a cord blood transplant is a simple procedure that is FDA approved to treat over 80 diseases. However, there are a few considerations you should make before deciding to only bank one of your children’s blood:
Cord Blood Registry is headquartered in South San Francisco, California. CBR owns their 80,000 square foot laboratory located in Tucson, Arizona. CBR’s laboratory processes cord blood collections seven days a week, 365 days a year. The state-of-the-art facility has the capacity to store the stem cell samples of five million newborns.
Until now, however, it hasn’t always been easy for couples to donate their baby’s cord blood to a public bank. The 28 public banks currently in operation work with only about 100 hospitals in the U.S. (find the list at parentsguidetocordblood.com). If you don’t deliver at one of these hospitals, you can contact either Cryobanks International or LifebankUSA, commercial organizations that store both private and public units. These banks pick up the tab for your donation (minus the physician’s collection fee).
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.
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.
After your baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta are usually thrown away. Because you are choosing to donate, the blood left in the umbilical cord and placenta will be collected and tested. Cord blood that meets standards for transplant will be stored at the public cord blood bank until needed by a patient. (It is not saved for your family.)
Much research is focused on trying to increase the number of HSCs that can be obtained from one cord blood sample by growing and multiplying the cells in the laboratory. This is known as “ex vivo expansion”. Several preliminary clinical trials using this technique are underway. The results so far are mixed: some results suggest that ex vivo expansion reduces the time taken for new blood cells to appear in the body after transplantation; however, adult patients still appear to need blood from two umbilical cords. More research is needed to understand whether there is a real benefit for patients, and this approach has yet to be approved for routine clinical use.
In 1989, Cryo-Cell International was founded in Oldsmar, FL, making it the oldest cord blood bank in the world. By 1992, it began to store cord blood. In addition to pursuing a wide variety of accreditations (AABB, cGMP, and ISO 1345), it was the first private cord blood bank in the U.S. to be awarded FACT accreditation. In 2017, it initiated a $100,000 Engraftment Guarantee (previously $75,000), the highest quality guarantee of any U.S. cord blood bank.
There was a time before the 1990s when the umbilical cord and its blood were considered medical waste. Today, parents bank or store their baby’s umbilical cord blood because the stem cells it contains are currently utilized or show promise in the treatment of life-threatening and debilitating diseases.
To save money, public banks will not even process a cord blood donation unless they know in advance that they are going to keep it. When the collection first arrives at the lab, it is passed through a cell counting machine. Only collections that have at least 900 million nucleated cells are kept. As a result, over 60%-80% of cord blood donations are discarded. The public bank must absorb the expense of the collection kit and delivery charges for discarded blood; typically $100 per unit.
The therapeutic potential of stem cells from the umbilical cord is vast. Cord blood is already being used in the treatment of nearly 80 life-threatening diseases2, and researchers continue to explore it’s potential. Duke University Medical Center is currently using cord blood stem cells in a Phase II clinical trial to see if it benefits kids with Autism. The number of clinical trials using cord tissue stem cells in human patients has increased to approximately 150 since the first clinical trial in 2007. Cord tissue stem cells are also being studied for the potential use in kids with Autism – a Phase I Clinical Trial is underway.
Why should you consider donating the cord blood to a public bank? Simply because, besides bringing a new life into the world, you could be saving an individual whose best chance at life is a stem cell transplant with your baby’s donated cord blood. This can only happen if you donate and if your baby is a close enough match for a patient in need. If you chose to reserve the cord blood for your family, then siblings who have the same parents have a 25% chance of being an exact match.
Fortunately, those odds should improve soon. In 2005, Congress passed the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act, which provides $79 million in federal funding to create a centralized cord-blood registry much like the one that exists for bone marrow. The goal is to expand the existing inventory of 45,000 donated cord-blood units to 150,000.
A limitation of cord blood is that it contains fewer HSCs than a bone marrow donation does, meaning adult patients often require two volumes of cord blood for treatments. Researchers are studying ways to expand the number of HSCs from cord blood in labs so that a single cord blood donation could supply enough cells for one or more HSC transplants.
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.
Complications Side Effects As the donor’s stem cells will always be a perfect match, there will be no incidence of graft versus host disease (GVHD), which can be a chronic and even fatal condition. Graft versus host disease (GVHD) is estimated to occur in 60–80 percent of transplants where the donor and recipient are not related. Perfect match! No incidence of graft versus host disease Graft versus host disease (GVHD) occurs in 60%–80% of non-related transplants.
For the 12- and 24-month payment plans, down payment is due at enrollment. In-house financing cannot be combined with other offers or discounts. *Please add $50 to the down payment for medical courier service if you’re located in Alaska, Hawai’i or Puerto Rico. **Actual monthly payment will be slightly lower than what is being shown. For the length of the term, the annual storage fee is included in the monthly payment. Upon the child’s birthday that ends the term and every birthday after that, an annual storage fee will be due. These fees are currently $150 for cord blood and $150 for cord tissue and are subject to change.
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.
An additional cost that is borne only by public banks is the “HLA typing” that is used to match donors and patients for transplants. This is an expensive test, running about $75 to $125 per unit. Family banks always defer this test until it is known whether a family member might use the cord blood for therapy.
Your baby’s umbilical cord is made up of tissue and contains blood. Both cord blood and cord tissue are rich sources of powerful stem cells. Cord blood stem cells are currently used in transplant medicine to regenerate healthy blood and immune systems. These cells are being researched for their ability to act like our body’s own personal repair kit and may be able to help our bodies heal in new ways.
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.
Unlike other banks, CBR uses a seamless cryobag for storage. The seamless construction decreases the potential for breakage that can occur in traditional, seamed-plastic storage bags. Prior to storage, each cryobag is placed in a second overwrap layer of plastic, which is hermetically sealed as an extra precaution against possible cross contamination by current and yet unidentified pathogens that may be discovered in the future. CBR stores the stem cells in vaults, called dewars, specially designed for long-term cryostorage. The cord blood units are suspended above a pool of liquid nitrogen that creates a vapor-phase environment kept at minus 196 degrees Celsius. This keeps the units as cold as liquid nitrogen without immersing them in liquid, which can enable cross-contamination. Cryopreserved cord blood stem cells have proven viable after more than 20 years of storage, and research suggests they should remain viable indefinitely.
Haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) can make every type of cell in the blood – red cells, white cells and platelets. They are responsible for maintaining blood production throughout our lives. They have been used for many years in bone marrow transplants to treat blood diseases.
Banking of stem cells from cord blood began in 1994 with the foundation of the New York Blood Centre Cord Blood Bank. The field of umbilical cord blood storage has matured considerably over the last two decades. We continue to learn more about the long-term effects of cryo-preservation on the cells, which has resulted in increased storage times.
Ironically, some private banks also hope to benefit from this new legislation. “We have the capabilities and capacity to collect and store donated as well as private units,” says Cryo-Cell’s Maass. In fact, because the bill recommends that pregnant women be informed of all of their cord-blood options, it’s likely that donations to both public and private banks will increase.
In the rare event of a processed sample not adhering to quality standards, CBR’s certified genetic counselors will work with potential clients to help them understand their options. Under this scenario, clients will have the option to discontinue storage and receive a refund.
 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.
Therapies with cord blood have gotten more successful. “The outcomes of cord blood transplants have improved over the past 10 years because researchers and clinicians have learned more about dosing cord blood, picking better matches, and giving the patient better supportive care as they go through the transplant,” says Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at Duke University.
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.