An A to Z article on what cord blood banking is and why more young parents are banking their babies’ cord blood and lining.
Cord blood, also known as placental blood, is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta following the birth of a baby and after the umbilical cord is cut after delivery. It contains red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma. More importantly, it is also rich in haematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells (HSCs), similar to those found in the bone marrow. These stem cells make cord blood valuable for future use in transplantations and cellular therapies.
After a baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped and then cut. Thereafter, a needle is inserted into the umbilical vein on the part of the cord that is still attached to the placenta. The blood is then drained into a collection bag where an average of 60 – 75ml of blood is collected. The entire collection process takes less than 10 minutes, and does not affect the birthing process in any way. This can be done for both natural and C-section births, and is completely painless and safe for both mother and baby. Upon successful collection, the umbilical cord blood will be brought back to Cordlife’s processing and storage facility.
The collected cord blood is passed through a machine which automatically isolates the stem cells from the other components present including red blood cells and plasma. This is a critical step as it affects the number of stem cells that can be harvested or recovered from the cord blood. Cell recovery rates are critical because a higher number of stem cells could enhance the success of any future transplant or treatment.
The next crucial step is ensuring that the cells are carefully prepared for cryopreservation so that they can be stored indefinitely while retaining its viability. As the first family cord blood bank in Singapore to offer fully automated processing from receipt to storage, Cordlife ensures that your child’s cord blood is well protected to ensure that the quality of the stem cells is maintained as they are placed into the liquid nitrogen storage systems at below -150oC.
Theoretically, the shelf-life of cells stored at liquid nitrogen temperatures has been estimated to be over 1,000 years1. In recent studies, it was found that cord blood stem cells that had been cryopreserved up to 23.5 years were still viable2. The National Cord Blood Programme (NCBP) in the United States started storing cord blood in 1993 and has not detected any significant deterioration in the quality of the cells when checking the viability of stored units3.
More than 85 diseases4 have already been treated with cord blood including numerous blood and immune system diseases as well as some metabolic diseases. There are numerous ongoing researches into the usage of cord blood stem cells to treat other immune and neurological conditions. Scientists are also investigating the possibility that stem cells from cord blood may be able to replace cells of other tissues such as nerve or heart cells. If these studies show positive results, it could signify the treatment of a wider range of diseases in the future.
Autologous stem cell transplants refer to transplants where the donor and recipient of the stem cells is the same individual. The cord blood from the baby is a potential medical resource for the future, and does not require stringent matching as opposed to conventional bone marrow stem cell transplants. Storing a baby’s cord blood not only guarantees a 100 percent perfect match whenever the child needs it. It can potentially also be used for the child’s siblings and other family members should there be a match.
Besides cord blood, the umbilical cord lining can also be harvested and stored. This is a rich source of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and epithelial stem cells (EpSCs), which are the “muscle-forming” and “skin-forming” building blocks in the human body. The list of potential treatments include Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injury, skeletal and tissue repairs, as well as wound healing.
1 Jens O.M. Karlsson, Mehmet Toner, Long-term storage of tissues by cryopreservation: critical issues. Biomaterials 17 (1996) 243-256.
2 Hal E. Broxmeyer, Man-Ryul Lee, Giao Hangoc, et. al., Hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, generation of induced pluripotent stem cells, and isolation of endothelial progenitors from 21- to 23.5- year cryopreserved cord blood. Blood 2011 117:4773-4777. Doi:10.1182/blood-2011-01-330514
3 http://www.nationalcordbloodprogram.org/qa/how_long.html. Accessed 27 June 2016
4http://parentsguidecordblood.org/en/diseases. Accessed on 27 June 2016
Top photo by Cordlife
Second photo by Shutterstock.