Cord blood is a small amount of blood retrieved from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. It is a very rich source of HSCs (hematopoietic stem cells, precursors to blood cells). MSCs (mesenchymal stem cells) are also present in the cord blood but are in much more abundance in the cord tissue. Cord blood is collected because of the stem cells it contains.
Umbilical cord blood is blood left over after the baby has been born in the placenta and umbilical cord. It contains of all the elements in normal blood such as red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, plasma and HSCs.
The most commonly used method for obtaining cord blood is called the ‘closed technique’. This method requires a phlebotomist to cannulate (the insertion of a tube into a vein to remove or add fluid) the veins of the severed umbilical cord with a needle connected to a blood bag. The cord blood proceeds to flow through the needle into the blood bag. This technique, on average, produces about 75ml of cord blood.
The collected blood is stored in cryopreservation facilities. The blood can be stored with a private blood bank or a public blood bank, the former of the two being for personal and family use and the latter for the general public. The Storage of MSCs from the umbilical cord tissue, medically referred to as Wharton’s jelly, has no standard procedure. Currently the tissue is stored as an intact segment in the hope that the technology develops to allow MSCs to be separated from the post thawed tissue.
On-going research into the use of stem cells has brought to light many treatments that are in use today. Many of these treatments are HSC related. MSCs are stem cells that make up tissues in our body, although extensive research is being put into the area, not many treatments are used that are MSC related. One such treatment involved a patient having their oesophagus replaced. Over 80 treatments and 1,000,000 incidents have been treated using hematopoietic stem cells.
In the US, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates the collection and storage of cord blood under the “Human Cells, Tissues, and Cellular and Tissue Based-Products” category. If the company has an operation in a select few states they will be required to seek accreditation to collect and store the cord blood.
In the UK (United Kingdom) the HTA (Human Tissue Authority) regulates cord blood storage and collection.
Public Cord Storage
In Canada the government has started an initiative costing over $48 million over the course of 8 years to set up a national registry for a chance for every family to donate their child’s umbilical cord blood.
In the UK the NHS Cord Blood Bank, set up in 1996, is a public cord blood bank set up to collect, process, store and supply cord blood. The following hospitals have specially trained staff to collect cord blood:
- Barnet General
- Northwick Park
- St George’s, Tooting
The Benefits of Private Banking
With private banking it is a for sure fact that the stem cells stored are for your child and compatible family members only, this is different to public banks in that they use donated cord blood for the good of the public. Some genetic disorders cannot be fixed by using the stem cells stored privately because they are inherent in all stem cells since the problem is genetic. However for non-genetic disorders such as cerebral palsy, which is where part of the brain is starved of oxygen and decays, can be fixed as the stem cells regrow the previously decayed brain tissue. This is only possible because the stem cells used to regrow the brain tissue are that of the baby so there is no chance of rejection, where as using donor stem cells would render the process futile.
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