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.
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.
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.
Companies throughout Europe also offer commercial (private) banking of umbilical cord blood. A baby’s cord blood is stored in case they or a family member develop a condition that could be treated by a cord blood transplant. Typically, companies charge an upfront collection fee plus an annual storage fee.
As the research into umbilical cord blood and it’s therapeutic use for blood diseases has grown, so has the question as to whether people should privately store the cord blood of their offspring for future use. A recent paper on this issue by Mahendra Rao and colleagues advocates the practice of cord blood banking (for treatment of blood diseases) but in the context of public cord blood banks rather than a private cord blood banks. Any adult needing treated would need at least two cord blood samples that are immune compatible. So one sample will not be sufficient. A child might only need one cord blood sample but in the case of childhood leukaemia there is a risk that pre-leukemic cells are present in cord blood sample – and so the child could not use their own cells for therapy.
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.
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.
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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.
AutoXpress™ Platform (AXP) cord blood processing results in a red-cell reduced stem cell product. Each sample is stored in a cryobag consisting of two compartments (one major and one minor) and two integrally attached segments used for unit testing.
For families who wish to donate cord blood to a public bank, the biggest hurdle may be finding a nearby hospital that collects cord blood for donation. Most public banks only work with select hospitals in their community. In the U.S., there are only about 200 hospitals that collect cord blood donations. Find out if there is a donation hospital near you.
Prior to freezing the cells, samples are taken for quality testing. Banks measure the number of cells that are positive for the CD34 marker, a protein that is used to estimate the number of blood-forming stem cells present. Typical cost, $150 to $200 per unit. They also measure the number of nucleated cells, another measure of stem cells, both before and after processing to determine the cell recovery rate. Typical expense, $35 per unit. A portion of the sample is submitted to check that there is no bacterial or fungal contamination. Typical expense, $75 per unit. Public banks will also check the ability of the sample to grow new cells by taking a culture called the CFU assay. Typical expense, $200 to $250 per unit.
If you or your spouse or partner has a family history of a disease that is treatable with stem cells, or if a family member is currently in need of a stem cell transplant, private cord blood banking could be the right choice for you. To read more reasons to consider private cord blood banking, click here.
Your child may never need it. Stem cell-rich cord blood can be used to treat a range of diseases, but Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, estimates that there’s only a 1 in 217 chance that your child will ever need a stem cell transplant with cord blood (or bone marrow). This is particularly true if the child doesn’t have a family history of diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, or sickle cell anemia. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states cord blood has been used to treat certain diseases successfully, there isn’t strong evidence to support cord blood banking. If a family does choose to bank cord blood, the AAP recommends public cord blood banking (instead of private) to cut down on expenditures.
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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.
If everyone donated cord blood to public registries for the ‘common good’ this would increase the chances of someone benefiting from a double cord blood transplant. This far outweights the actual probability of the person who donated the sample being able to usefully use it for themself.
There are many “what if” situations that we all consider in our life. One of the most serious is “What if a child or other family member was to become seriously ill?” Cord Blood Banking clinics have been growing exponentially in response to this…
Current applications for newborn stem cells include treatments for certain cancers and blood, metabolic and immune disorders. Additionally, newborn stem cell preservation has a great potential to benefit the newborn’s immediate family members with stem cell samples preserved in their most pristine state.
Your baby isn’t the only one who may benefit from having access to preserved newborn stem cells. The cells can potentially be used by siblings and parents, too. In many cord blood treatments, stem cells from a matched family member are preferred.
Cord blood can’t be used to treat everything. If your child is born with a genetic condition such as muscular dystrophy or spina bifida, then the stem cells would have that condition, says Dr. Kurtzberg. But if the cord blood donor is healthy and there is a sibling or another immediate family member who has a genetic condition, the cord blood could be a good match for them.
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.