As the name implies, cord blood is the leftover blood collected from a baby's umbilical cord or a mother's placenta after birth. The blood contains stem cells, which can differentiate into other types of cells and help to maintain and repair tissues.
Cord blood stem cells differ from embryonic stem cells in that they are considered adult stem cells and do not require the destruction of an embryo to harvest. There are ultimately 3 steps involved with harvesting cord blood stem cells.
The collection process starts with deciding on whether to use a public or private storage facility to bank the cord blood. Once you've done so, you'll need to notify your midwife or obstetrician of your plan to bank. It's recommended that your obstetrician or midwife is notified by the 34th week of pregnancy in case there is an early delivery.
Your blood bank will provide you with a collection kit, which will contain everything your health care provider will need to draw the blood and package it for transport. Your kit should be packed in your overnight bag and handed off to your nurse when you arrive for delivery. Your doctor or midwife will then collect the cord blood after the umbilical cord has been clamped, cut, and cleaned.
Approximately 2oz of blood is extracted from the cord, which could provide anywhere from 1-2 million stem cells. There is no pain or risk involved in collection and the procedure is typically completed in less than five minutes. Once the blood is collected, it is placed in the kit and shipped to the blood bank to be processed.
Once the cord blood arrives at the blood bank, it is first tested for microbial contamination. If no contamination is detected, technicians then spin the sample at a high speed to separate the stem cells from the red blood cells and plasma. The isolated stem cells can then be preserved in the bank.
Every part of the human body contains stem cells. However, many areas of the body do not contain enough stem cells to make harvesting them worthwhile. Fortunately, cord blood provides a rich source of stem cells that can be used for gene therapy. Cord blood stem cells are also immature cells and have not developed the ability to attack foreign cells, which makes them perfect for transplant.
Because stem cells are the building blocks of the immune system, they possess the ability to develop into other types of cells. You can use stem cells to help repair tissues, organs, and blood vessels, and even treat a host of different diseases. In total, cord blood can be used to treat more than 80 different diseases including blood disorders, immune deficiencies, and certain cancers. Storing cord blood can help family and community members receive gene therapy treatment for the aforementioned conditions and diseases.
Researchers believe that cord blood stem cells have great potential in treating neonatal brain injuries such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and cerebral palsy. As of right now, there is no indication that stem cell therapy can cure these conditions, but there is some evidence that it can lessen the severity of symptoms.
Stem cell therapy for birth injuries is still undergoing clinical trials. It is not advised to undergo stem cell therapy until formal guidelines have been established.
There are certain advantages and disadvantages of using cord blood for stem cell therapy, as opposed to other types of stem cells (such as those found in bone marrow). The stem cells collected from cord blood samples are not fully mature. This means they have not learned to attack foreign substances yet and can be transplanted into a body without having to be an exact match. Cord blood also contains a number of different types of stem cells, which makes it a better candidate for regenerative medicine. The cells in cord blood also release chemicals signaling the body to heal itself. However, it's difficult to collect enough cord blood to transplant to an adult. Cord blood stem cells are also slow to engraft.
The differences between the two types of cord blood banks ultimately comes down to ownership. With a private bank, you own the cord blood which can be used to treat your baby or any other immediate family members. Of course, ownership comes with the associated fees. Storing with a private company will cost anywhere from $1,500-$2,500 with an annual storage fee of around $125. On the other hand, there is no cost to donate to a public bank. Your baby's cord blood will be used by doctors to treat patients or conduct research. When you donate to a public bank, there is no guarantee you'll have access to your baby's cord blood.
Cord clamping can be delayed as a way to allow blood from the umbilical cord to flow into the newborn baby. Delaying past the first 30-60 seconds of birth will significantly decrease the ability to collect cord blood. As time progresses, the blood flow in the umbilical cord slows down. The blood will begin to clot, reducing the amount of cord blood that can be collected. If you've decided to bank with a private bank, collecting cord blood past 60 seconds may still be possible. Many private banks do not impose a strict volume limit to store collections. However, public cord blood banks do have a minimum size requirement on collections, and collections past 60 seconds will likely not meet the minimum volume requirements.
Cord blood insurance is sometimes offered by private blood banks. If your child gets sick and needs stem cell therapy, your personal health insurance may not always cover all of the associated treatment expenses. Cord blood insurance provides extra security to ensure families are able to afford a cord blood transplant. Cord blood insurance will cover hospital costs, rehabilitation costs, outpatient visits, medication, your policy deductible, and even the travel and lodging expenses associated with obtaining therapy. Some banks offer insurance as part of their service, but you can also purchase insurance separately.