Cord Blood Stem Cells - FAQs
What is cord blood?
Cord blood is the excess blood found in the placenta and umbilical cord after your baby is born. It is rich in hematopoietic stem cells that produce blood tissue in the human body. If not collected at the time of your baby's birth, this precious resource will be discarded as medical waste. Learn more about cord blood.
What are cord blood stem cells?
Stem cells from cord blood are the "building blocks" of our blood and immune systems. They are capable of self-renewal and regeneration and have the ability to repair and rebuild damaged tissue within the body.
What diseases are treated using cord blood stem cells?
Today, over 80 diseases and conditions are routinely being treated with cord blood stem cells, including leukemia, lymphoma, various anemias and more. Current research in regenerative medicine has shown successful results in treating diabetes, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries and heart disease. The potential for future treatments using cord blood stem cells is infinite.
What are the chances of my family ever needing stem cells?
It is estimated that as many as 1 in 3 people in the United States might benefit from stem cell regenerative medicine therapy, including treatments for type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke, heart failure, liver damage, Alzheimer’s, and more.1
1 Harris DT. Cord blood stem cells: a review of potential neurological applications. Stem Cell Rev. 2008;4:269-274. Epub August 5, 2008.
Would doctors ever treat my baby using his/her own cord blood?
Yes. Many lymphomas, sarcomas and tumors have successfully been treated using a patient's own cord blood stem cells. There are, however, some conditions for which doctors will prefer to use stem cells from a sibling. Consequently, it is vitally important that you choose to bank cord blood for each of your children.1
1 Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. (2005). Cord Blood: Establishing a National Hematopoietic Stem Cell Bank Program. Washington DC: The National Academies Press.
Can cord blood stem cells be used to treat adults?
Yes. Scientists have recently developed a method to expand the number of stem cells within a cord blood unit before infusing them into adult patients. Expanded cord blood units result in a 164-fold increase in the number of hematopoietic stem cells, making one cord blood unit suitable for transplant in an average size adult.1
1 Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (2010, January 18). First successful use of expanded umbilical- cord blood units to treat leukemia. Science Daily. Retrieved January 20, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100117150820.htm? utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+ News%29
What is HLA matching?
HLA, or human leukocyte antigens, are the proteins that control tissue compatibility. The closer the match, the less risk of a potentially fatal condition called GVHD, or graft-versus-host disease (also called "rejection"). There is no risk of GVHD when a child receives his or her own cord blood. Within a family, there is a high probability of matching a sibling or parent. Outside the family, the situation is much different. HLA antigens are highly polymorphic, with hundreds of different HLA antigens found in the human population (roughly 750,000 possible combinations of three HLA antigens alone).1 Your best chance of providing a match for your family is to bank your baby's own cord blood.
What is GVHD?
GVHD, or graft-versus-host disease, is the leading cause of death following transplant surgery. Nearly 50% of all patients who develop GVHD will die as a result.1 GVHD occurs when the healthy cells of the donor tissue attack the immunocompromised cells of the recipient.
The risk of GVHD is directly related to tissue compatibility and the biological relationship of the donor to the recipient, which is described in terms of HLA matching. The closer the HLA match, the lower your risk of GVHD.
1 eMedicine. (January 6, 2009). Retrieved April 1, 2010 from Graft Versus Host Disease: Mortality/Morbidity: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/886758-overview.
What is the difference between cord blood stem cells and stem cells from bone marrow?
The risk and severity of GVHD is much higher with stem cells from bone marrow. In addition, cells from bone marrow are more likely to have been exposed to latent diseases, which can result in decreased cell viability.
Are embryonic stem cells different than cord blood stem cells?
Yes. Cord blood stem cells are distinctively different from embryonic stem cells. Cord blood stem cells are collected from the umbilical cord after your baby is born, and if not saved are discarded as medical waste. Embryonic stem cells are derived from a process that inhibits the life of the embryo, which make them highly controversial. There are no ethical oppositions to the use of cord blood stem cells.
Is treatment with cord blood stem cells considered "experimental"?
No. After decades of successful transplants, the use of cord blood stem cells is now considered standard therapy in the treatment of more than 80 diseases and conditions.
How will cord blood stem cells be used in the future?
The field of stem cell therapy is growing rapidly, and the future potential is unlimited. Current studies are evaluating the effects of using cord blood stem cells to treat diabetes, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, heart disease, and more. Scientists are also using cord blood stem cells to stimulate lung development in premature babies. Saving your baby's cord blood gives your family the opportunity to take advantage of future advances in stem cell treatments.