Taking time to consider helping another person when you are already busy planning for the birth of your child is greatly appreciated. A gift of cord blood may someday give someone a second chance at life.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
/en/public-bankingM.D. Anderson hospital has the largest stem cell transplantation program in the world, and in April 2005 they established a public cord blood bank that is accredited under the international FACT/Netcord standards.
Stem cells are able to transform into other types of cells in the body to create new growth and development. They are also the building blocks of the immune system. The transformation of these cells provides doctors with a way to treat leukemia and some inherited health disorders.
Private companies offer to store cord blood for anyone who wants it done, whether or not there is any medical reason known to do so at the time. The fee for private storage varies, but averages about $1,500 up front and $100 per year for storage. When there is no one in the family who needs a transplant, private storage of a newborn’s cord blood is done for a purely speculative purpose that some companies have termed “biological insurance.”
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.
^ a b Walther, Mary Margaret (2009). “Chapter 39. Cord Blood Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation”. In Appelbaum, Frederick R.; Forman, Stephen J.; Negrin, Robert S.; Blume, Karl G. Thomas’ hematopoietic cell transplantation stem cell transplantation (4th ed.). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9781444303537.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) neither recommends nor advises against cord blood banking. But along with the AAP and AMA, it cautions parents about private cord blood banking. Here’s why:
Stem cell transplants from a related family member are less likely to be rejected, therefore having your baby’s stem cells available makes it less likely you would have to search for an unrelated donor who is a match
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.
One oft cited argument against cord blood banking is that it is not known how long these cells can remain viable in storage. While it is not known if cells taken from an individual as an infant will be beneficial to them as an adult, units stored for up to 10 years have been transplanted successfully. This indicates that there is no reason to suggest serious deterioration in the quality of cord blood units stored for longer periods of time.
Banked cord blood is most abundant in white blood cells and stem cells. While a lot of attention is paid to the stem cells, there are approximately 10 times more total nucleated cells (TNCs) than stem cells in any cord blood collection. TNCs are basically white blood cells, or leukocytes; they are the cells of the immune system that protect the body. Despite stem cells comprising one-tenth of most collections, cord blood is still considered a rich source of hematopoietic (he-mah-toe-po-ee-tic) stem cells (HSCs). HSCs are often designated by the marker CD34+. Hematopoietic stem cells can become two categories of cells: myeloid and lymphoid cells. Myeloid cells go on to form your red blood cells, platelets, and other cells of the blood. Lymphoid cells go on to become the B cells and T cells and are the basis for the immune system. Cord blood also contains mesenchymal (meh-sen-ki-mal) stem cells (MSCs), but they are much more abundant in cord tissue, which we will discuss in a minute.
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?
While cord-blood companies herald the possible future treatments of many adult diseases with stem cells, they rarely mention a key issue. Researchers have greater hopes for the potential of embryonic stem cells, which are thought to have the ability to develop into many different types of cells. It is not known whether the stem cells in cord blood have that ability; until recently, it was thought that they (like those in bone marrow) could only regenerate blood and immune cells.
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.
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.