Banking on Life


Parents awaiting the birth of a child can be overwhelmed by the number of decisions to be made before the baby’s arrival, including choosing a pediatrician and whether to breastfeed or formula feed. Another decision to consider is whether to collect and store a baby’s cord blood and/or cord tissue. 

A mother giving birth can also give life and hope to cancer patients, too. Parents can donate their child’s umbilical cord blood to the Texas Cord Blood Bank (TCBB) in San Antonio. There are seven cord blood banks in the nation and the TCBB is the only one in the Southwest region. TCBB uses state-of-the-art equipment and quality control.

The process of donating cord blood is free, simple and painless to the newborn child and mother. The blood is sent to the TCBB in San Antonio where the blood is kept frozen and can be good for use for up to 20 years.

Umbilical cord blood stem cells are collected following delivery of a newborn infant. Cord blood is obtained by the delivering physician or health care provider moments after the birth by a simple and safe procedure that requires about five minutes to complete.

Today, umbilical cord blood (UCB) is being used as a source of stem cells in the treatment of over 80 diseases, including leukemias, myelomas, lymphomas, genetic disorders/diseases, immune system deficiencies, and blood cell disorders. In addition, the use of UCB stem cells has been, and continues to be, studied in cell repair and regeneration, in emergency treatment of wounds, including burns, and in regenerative medicine with conditions such as cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, Type 1 diabetes, and hearing loss.

The first successful umbilical cord blood transplant was performed in 1988 in a boy with the genetic disorder Fanconi’s anemia. Stem cells from the cord blood of the young boy’s newborn sister, who did not have the disorder as known by prenatal testing and who was a leukocyte antigen match to her brother, were transplanted and resulted in curing the boy’s disease.

What Is It?
Cord blood stem cells have the ability to separate into not only different blood cell types, but potentially into different types of tissue including bone, cartilage, hepatic, pancreatic, neurologic, muscle, epithelial, endothelial, and skin. 

Another characteristic of umbilical cord blood stem cells is that they are less likely to produce an undesired immune response in the transplant recipient. As a result, transplants using cord blood stem cells do not require an exact match or even a high level of matching between the donor and recipient. This has the potential to allow a greater number of individuals, related or unrelated, to receive stem cell transplants
from UCB.

How Do We Help?
Over the last two decades, the area of cord blood banking has grown. Stem cells from cord blood have been used in more than 30,000 transplants performed worldwide for the treatment of more than 80 diseases and disorders in both adults and children. Once regarded as medical waste, cord blood stem cells may have the potential for medical applications we have never imagined. Research continues to build the field of regenerative medicine.

In the early 1990s, as the potential for and successes in using cord blood stem cells in treating certain diseases were realized, both private and public cord blood banks were established as choices for storage of the cord blood and tissue.

In the U.S, the Food and Drug Administration provides regulatory and safety supervision of cord blood. All public and private cord blood banks in the U.S. must keep good tissue practice standards. While the demand and use of cord blood units are growing, donation is only available at 180 collection sites in the United States. As a result, cord blood from approximately 96% of the nation’s four million annual births is discarded.

What Do They Do? How Do They Use It?
Each year, cord blood transplants are needed by thousands of patients with blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma. The search for a donor match can be more difficult for mixed-heritage patients. So there is an urgent need for cord blood from racially- and ethnically-diverse populations to increase the likelihood that all patients can find the match they need. Studies show that positive outcomes increase when patients closely match the donated cells. Patients are more likely to match someone who shares their ancestry.

The American people are in broad support of more UCB research, according to the results of a May 2014 online survey by the Cord Blood Registry® that happened with National Cord Blood Awareness Month.

The survey found that nearly 9 of 10 Americans agrees (or strongly agrees) that further research should be conducted to investigate if stem cells stimulate the body’s own repair mechanisms to heal tissues or organs. It showed that more than 75% of Americans are aware of stem cell research to develop more effective treatments for Alzheimer’s, brain injury, and cancer. They also show that Americans believe in the medical benefits of stem cell research and would like to learn more about therapeutic strategies which build, repair, replace, or regenerate organs and tissues.

Here’s what else they found: because a person’s own stem cells can be planted back into that individual without being rejected by the body’s immune system, cord blood stem cells have become an important focus of regenerative medicine research.

Regenerative medicine is the process of replacing human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function. It is estimated that nearly 1 in 3 people in the United States may benefit from regenerative medicine therapy.

Researchers are exploring the use of cord blood stem cells in a number of uses, such as cardiovascular repair to see if cells choose to move to injured cardiac tissue, boost blood flow at the site of injury, and improve overall heart function.

Also, they are investigating central nervous system therapies to assess whether cells move to the area of brain injury to ease mobility related symptoms and repair damaged brain tissue, such as that with cerebral palsy. It is believed that cord blood stem cells are an important resource to using the body’s own cells for treatment.

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