Cord blood is collected immediately after birth, as soon as blood starts comes out from newborn’s umbilical cord. Once the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut, the remaining blood in it is drawn into a collection bag. Cord blood have been used to regenerate healthy blood and immune systems in more than 30,000 transplants worldwide as it contains powerful stem cells.
Are cord blood stem cells different from other stem cells?
Yes. From other sources like bone marrow, cord blood stem cells are biologically younger and are more flexible compared to adult stem cells.
Why do we need to store baby’s umbilical cord blood?
Umbilical cord blood can be used for families affected by or at risk of a disease for which hematopoietic stem cell transplants may be necessary – either for the child, a sibling or a family member and an unrelated donor. Cord blood can be stored in public or private cord blood banks. In 35 countries there are over 130 public cord blood banks. They are regulated by governments and adhere to internationally agreed standards regarding safety, sample quality and ethical issues.
In UK, several National Health Service facilities within the National Blood Service harvest and store altruistically donated umbilical cord blood. Cord blood collection is done by trained staff who is working separately from those providing care to the mother and newborn child. The mother may consent to donate the blood for research and/or clinical use and the cord blood bank will make the blood available for use as appropriate.
Which diseases can be treated by umbilical cord blood?
Umbilical cord blood contains hematopoietic (Blood) stem cells. These cells are able to make the different types of cell in the blood – red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Hematopoietic stem cells, purified from bone marrow or blood, have long been used in stem cell treatments for leukemia, blood and bone marrow disorders, cancer (when chemotherapy is used) and immune deficiencies.
Since 1989, umbilical cord blood has been used successfully to treat children with leukemia, anemia and other blood diseases. Researchers are now looking at ways of increasing the number of hematopoietic stem cells that can be obtained from cord blood so that they can be used to treat adults routinely.
A study from The New England Journal of Medicine showed that the 1 – year survival rate for patients treated with cord blood stem cells from a relative was 63%, compared with only 29% for those treated with stem cells from unrelated donors.
What are all the advantages?
- As umbilical cord blood is obtained after the last stage of delivery, there is no risk to the donor (mother or child)
- “Autologous Transplantation”, an ability to use one’s own stem cells for conditions that currently lack medical treatment options.
- Umbilical cord blood units are processed and the cell content, infectious disease status and HLA-type are determined at the time of cryopreservation, enabling rapid availability
- Once a unit has been identified as suitable for a particular patient it can minimize disease progression in early treatment
- Umbilical cord blood is frozen in small volumes, producing minimal dimethyl sulphoxide (DMSO) exposure as well as easy transport
- There is a low risk of virus transmission; and less risk of complication when used in transplants
- Preserving them “stops the clock” and protects the cells from ageing
- Relatively low risk of graft versus host disease despite HLA-mismatch, making it possible to find umbilical cord blood units for patients with less common tissue types, such as those in racial and ethnic minorities.
“Cord blood, which is still considered a biological waste product in most countries, could be used as an alternative non-controversial source of stem cells with unlimited availability and a wide range of unexploited therapeutic benefits. In effect, one of the miracles o birth, previously disregarded, now offers the miracle of life to thousands of patients.”