By Lisa Benjamini
In 1957, E. Donnell Thomas successfully completed the first bone marrow transplant between siblings. His work won him a 1990 Nobel Prize and the title, “The Father of Bone Marrow Transplantation.”
Ever since, stem cells have been at the heart of most medical research thanks to their astonishing ability to grow into any other kind of cell (heart, lung, brain, etc.). The value of harnessing the life saving properties of cord blood in the same manner as bone marrow was noted with the first successful U.S. cord blood transplant in 1988 for a child with Fanconi’s Anemia, who was given only 6 month to live.
Over the last 30 years, the discovery of cord blood stem cells has opened a new chapter in stem cell research. Cord blood stem cells (cells taken from the blood of a newborn’s umbilical cord) are easily obtained. They pose no ethical concerns and are different than other stem cells in several ways. First, they are completely pure, having never been exposed to pollution, viruses, or chemicals. They are also younger than other popular stem cells (like those found in bone marrow); for this reason they can easily grow and differentiate into different tissues. They work by decreasing inflammation and providing new blood vessels to an area with disease so the body can heal itself from within. They are a genetic match for your child and a 25% match for each sibling and parent. They have a reduced chance of having an immune rejection and they can be used even when there is not a perfect match.
Parents have the option of storing their children’s cord blood at birth and saving it for future use. These cells can be used to treat the child or a family member in the future. Cord blood has been used in over 35,000 successful transplants to treat over 80 different diseases including blood and immune disorders, inherited disorders, and malignancies like Hodgkin’s Disease and lymphoma.
Cord blood is used in two ways: autologous use (using your own stem cells) and allogenic use (using donated cells). If you choose not to store your child’s cord blood privately, you can donate it to a public bank for others to use allogenically. For children who have two western European (Caucasian) parents, there is a 75% chance of finding a donor through public cord blood banks. However, for children of African American, Hispanic, Asian, or multi-racial backgrounds, this chance drops to 25%, 45%, 40%, and less than 5%, respectively. If you belong to one of these ethnic backgrounds, privately storing your child’s cord blood provides the opportunity of using the cord blood to treat a variety of diseases in the future. Private storage is also a good option for a couple with a known genetic disease, since cord blood stem cells can be used to treat genetically based diseases that currently have no known therapy. Cord blood stem cells have the unique properties of entering the brain and regenerating new neurons, and they show promising results in the future treatment of Autism, Cerebral palsy, and diseases of the premature infant like lung, eye, and intestinal disorders.
Cord blood storage is safe for both mother and baby. After you give birth, your doctor will collect the cord blood in a pre-labeled container and send it to your storage facility of choice. The entire process takes only 2-3 minutes. Despite the ease of collection and the life-saving benefits of cord blood storage, only 3% of cord blood is collected. The remaining 97% is disposed of as medical waste. The reason? A 2006 study in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine found that 33% of expectant parents are unaware of their options for private or public cord blood storage. And only 14% of parents are told about cord blood storage by an OBGYN. A 2014 study revisited the JRM Study and found that these numbers have barely budged in a decade.
As a new parent, it’s important that you recognize that you have choices when it comes to your child’s future health and happiness. If you decide to store your child’s cord blood, you can choose from local and national storage facilities. Texas Stem Cell (TSC) is a local cord blood bank providing both public and private cord blood banking of the highest GMP standards (standards used in drug manufacturing). TSC provides patented temperature controlled cord blood transportation kits that ensure the highest viability and potency of stem cells during transport and processing. As a Houston based facility with years of experience in cell cryopreservation, TSC provides rapid and enzyme-free processing of stem cells stored for future regenerative medicine therapy.
For more information about cord blood stem cells or to find out if it’s the right option for your family, talk to your OBGYN. You can also find additional information online through the Parents Guide to Cord Blood and Save the Cord.