The umbilical cord blood contains haematopoietic stem cells – similar to those found in the bone marrow – and which can be used to generate red blood cells and cells of the immune system. Cord blood stem cells are currently used to treat a range of blood disorders and immune system conditions such as leukaemia, anaemia and autoimmune diseases. These stem cells are used largely in the treatment of children but have also started being used in adults following chemotherapy treatment.
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.
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A cord blood bank may be private (i.e. the blood is stored for and the costs paid by donor families) or public (i.e. stored and made available for use by unrelated donors). While public cord blood banking is widely supported, private cord banking is controversial in both the medical and parenting community. Although umbilical cord blood is well-recognized to be useful for treating hematopoietic and genetic disorders, some controversy surrounds the collection and storage of umbilical cord blood by private banks for the baby’s use. Only a small percentage of babies (estimated at between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000) ever use the umbilical cord blood that is stored. The American Academy of Pediatrics 2007 Policy Statement on Cord Blood Banking stated: “Physicians should be aware of the unsubstantiated claims of private cord blood banks made to future parents that promise to insure infants or family members against serious illnesses in the future by use of the stem cells contained in cord blood.” and “private storage of cord blood as ‘biological insurance’ is unwise” unless there is a family member with a current or potential need to undergo a stem cell transplantation. The American Academy of Pediatrics also notes that the odds of using a person’s own cord blood is 1 in 200,000 while the Institute of Medicine says that only 14 such procedures have ever been performed.
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.
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
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.
Stem cell transplant using an individual’s own cord blood (called an autologous transplant) cannot be used for genetic disorders such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia, because the genetic mutations which cause these disorders are present in the baby’s cord blood. Other diseases that are treated with stem cell transplant, such as leukemia, may also already be present in a baby’s cord blood.
The umbilical cord is a rich source of two main types of stem cells: cord blood stem cells and cord tissue stem cells. Through the science of cord blood and cord tissue banking, these stem cells can help nurture life, long after your baby’s birth.
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.
Blood in the umbilical cord and placenta is rich with blood-forming stem cells that can help save the lives of patients with diseases and disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma and aplastic anemia. With your consent, Canadian Blood Services can collect cord blood when you deliver your baby for Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank—to be used by anyone who needs stem cell treatment.
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.
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.
Banking cord blood is a new type of medical protection, and there are a lot of questions that parents may want to ask. The Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood organization even has questions it believes all parents should ask their cord blood banks. We have answers to these and other frequently asked cord blood questions in our FAQs. If you can’t find the answer for which you are looking, please feel free to engage one of our cord blood educators through the website’s chat interface.
Canadian Blood Services acknowledges the funding of provincial, territorial and federal governments. The views expressed in this document are those of Canadian Blood Services and do not necessarily reflect those of governments.
* Annual storage fees will be charged automatically to the credit/debit card on file, on or around your baby’s birthday, unless you’ve chosen a prepay option and are subject to change until they are paid.
“This reanalysis supports several previously expressed opinions that autologous [to use one’s OWN cells] banking of cord blood privately as a biological insurance for the treatment of life-threatening diseases in children and young adults is not clinically justified because the chances of ever using it are remote. The absence of published peer-reviewed evidence raises the serious ethical concern of a failure to inform prospective parents about the lack of future benefit for autologous cord banking … Attempts to justify this [commercial cord blood banking] are based on the success of unrelated public domain cord banking and allogeneic [using someone ELSE’S cells] cord blood transplantation, and not on the use of autologous [the person’s OWN cells] cord transplantation, the efficacy of which remains unproven”.
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.
nbiased and factual information. The Foundation educates parents, health professionals and the general public about the need to preserve this valuable medical resource while providing information on both public cord blood donation programs and private family cord blood banks worldwide. Learn more about our global community.
The stem cells from your baby’s cord blood may also be effective in treating certain diseases or conditions of a parent or sibling. Cord blood stem cells have similar ability to treat disease as bone marrow but with significantly less rejection.
Once considered medical waste, the blood left in the umbilical cord after a baby’s delivery is now known to be a rich source of stem cells similar to those in bone marrow. It’s been used in transplants to treat more than 70 different diseases including leukemia, lymphoma, sickle-cell disease, and some metabolic disorders. Unlike with marrow, which is obtained through a painful medical procedure and replenished by the body, there’s only one chance to collect this seemingly magical elixir: immediately after a baby’s birth.
Generally, cord blood can only be used to treat children up to 65 lbs. This is because there simply aren’t enough stem cells on average in one unit of cord blood to treat an adult. Through our Cord Blood 2.0 technology, we have been able to collect up to twice as many stem cells as the industry average. Getting more stem cells increases the chance of being able to treat someone later in life.