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.
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).
The cord blood of your baby is an abundant source of stem cells that are genetically related to your baby and your family. Stem cells are dominant cells in the way they contribute to the development of all tissues, organs, and systems in the body.
Umbilical cord blood is the blood left over in the placenta and in the umbilical cord after the birth of the baby. The cord blood is composed of all the elements found in whole blood. It contains red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, platelets and is also rich in hematopoietic stem cells. There are several methods for collecting cord blood. The method most commonly used in clinical practice is the “closed technique”, which is similar to standard blood collection techniques. With this method, the technician cannulates the vein of the severed umbilical cord using a needle that is connected to a blood bag, and cord blood flows through the needle into the bag. On average, the closed technique enables collection of about 75 ml of cord blood.
Blood from the umbilical cord and placenta is put into a sterile bag. (The blood is put into the bag either before or after the placenta is delivered, depending upon the procedure of the cord blood bank.)
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.
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:
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.
Generally not. The reason siblings are more likely to match is because they get half of their HLA markers from each parent. Based on the way parents pass on genes, there is a 25 percent chance that two siblings will be a whole match, a 50 percent chance they will be a half match, and a 25 percent chance that they will not be a match at all. It is very rare for a parent to be a match with their own child, and even more rare for a grandparent to be a match.
Stem Cell Storage is not included in their price. Viacord and Cord Blood Registry both charge for annual storage. This means that when you pay for your initial cord blood and/or cord tissue storage you will also have to pay annually for storage.
Clearly, it is advantageous to save cord blood stem cells, but it can be confusing to decide where to store them. There are currently two options: public cord blood banks and private cord blood banks. Public and private banks serve very different purposes, and it is important to know which type of bank would be more beneficial to you and your family.
If someone doesn’t have cord blood stored, they will have to rely on stem cells from another source. For that, we can go back to the history of cord blood, which really begins with bone marrow. Bone marrow contains similar although less effective and possibly tainted versions of the same stem cells abundant in cord blood. Scientists performed the first bone marrow stem cell transplant in 1956 between identical twins. It resulted in the complete remission of the one twin’s leukemia.
Bone marrow and similar sources often requires an invasive, surgical procedure and one’s own stem cells may already have become diseased, which means the patient will have to find matching stem cells from another family member or unrelated donor. This will increase the risk of GvHD. In addition, finding an unrelated matched donor can be difficult, and once a match is ascertained, it may take valuable weeks, even months, to retrieve. Learn more about why cord blood is preferred to the next best source, bone marrow.
Cord Blood Registry® (CBR®) is the world’s largest newborn stem cell company. Founded in 1992, CBR is entrusted by parents with storing samples from more than 600,000 children. CBR is dedicated to advancing the clinical application of cord blood and cord tissue stem cells by partnering with institutions to establish FDA-regulated clinical trials for conditions that have no cure today.CBR has helped more than 400 families use their cord blood stem cells for established and experimental medical treatments, more than any other family cord blood bank. CBR’s goal is to expand the potential scope of newborn stem cell therapies that may be available to patients and their families.
“This is a medical service that has to be done when your baby’s cells arrive and you certainly want them to be handled by good equipment and good technicians,” says Frances Verter, Ph.D., founder and director of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to educating parents about cord blood donation and cord blood therapists. “It’s just not going to be cheap.” 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 reduce costs.
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.
CBR collection kits have been designed to shield the samples from extreme temperatures (shielding for more than 1 hour at extreme hot and cold). Samples remain at room temperature and are shipped directly to the CBR lab for processing.
If a sibling of a child whose cord blood you banked needs a transplant, then your chances of a match will be far higher than turning to the public. However, the safest bet is to bank the cord blood of all your children, safeguarding them against a number of diseases and ensuring a genetic match if necessary.
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.
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
After the birth of a baby, the umbilical cord and placenta are typically discarded as medical waste, but if requested, stem cells from the cord blood inside of them can be collected for storage or donation. Stem cells can be used to treat a variety of diseases. Learn what these diseases are in our comprehensive list of diseases treatable with cord blood stem cells.
Collecting The collection for family banking can occur virtually anywhere. Public banks collect cord blood at only a limited number of locations. Can occur virtually anywhere Only a limited number of locations
Florida Hospital for Children is conducting an FDA-regulated phase I clinical trial to investigate the use of a child’s stem cells derived from their own cord blood as a treatment for acquired sensorineural hearing loss.
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.
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.
As your baby’s birth approaches, think about making a cord blood donation. You have the power to Give Life to patients like Jessica. Because two babies’ families gave life through cord blood donation, she can watch her own children grow up.
Umbilical cord blood can save lives. Cord blood is rich in stem cells that can morph into all sorts of blood cells, which can be used to treat diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and certain cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. There are a few ways for transplant patients to get blood cells (umbilical and placenta, bone marrow, peripheral/circulation), but cord blood is easier to match with patients, and because it is gathered during birth from the umbilical cord, it’s a painless procedure.
Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a common complication after an allogeneic transplant (from a source other than the patient) where the patient’s immune system recognizes the cells as “foreign” and attacks the newly transplanted cells. This can be a potentially life threatening complication. The risk for developing GVHD is lower with cord blood transplants than with marrow or peripheral blood transplants. Patients who do develop GVHD after a cord blood transplant typically do not develop as severe of a case of GVHD. Cord blood also is less likely to transmit certain viruses such as cytomegalovirus (CMV), which poses serious risks for transplant patients with compromised immune systems.