Stem cells used in transplants were first obtained through bone marrow. In 1978, science discovered stem cells in the umbilical cord blood, and in 1988, cord blood stem cells were used in their first transplant. It was soon afterwards that some of the first private cord blood banks were established to provide parents the opportunity to store their baby's cord blood. In fact, Cryo-Cell is the world’s first private cord blood bank. Later on, Cryo-Cell's banking process was licensed to companies around the globe. Those companies have grown to become some of the largest stem cell banking companies in Europe, India, Mexico and other countries, providing families around the world access to therapies using their own child's stem cells.
Cord blood can be used in partial matches and shows a reduced risk of post-transplantation complications. Cord blood is also easy to collect at the time of delivery and is immediately available when needed. Here is a further look at the benefits of banking cord blood:
Easy to collect
There is no pain or risk for the mother or baby in extracting the blood from the umbilical cord, and the collection process is easily performed at the same time as the cutting of the umbilical cord. Bone marrow collection, on the other hand, requires an invasive, surgical procedure and general anesthesia, which comes with its own inherent risks.
For stem cells to be successfully transplanted, they must be a match for the receiver. Matched stem cells can be found in some public databases, but the chance of finding a match is low and complications can arise with unrelated blood transfusions. Genetically related stem cells from a blood-related family member more often result in successful transplants. If a public match cannot be found, the patient must often rely on his own stem cells or those from an immediate family member (if available).
Someone’s own stem cells are always a perfect match for him or herself. Siblings share a 25 percent chance of being a perfect match and a 50 percent chance of being a partial match. Altogether, this gives siblings a 75 percent chance of being a possible match. Since each parent provides markers used in matching, parents have a 100 percent chance of being a partial match. This means a child’s cord blood stem cells could one day be used to help his or her mother or father. In the end, it is up to the doctor to determine how close the match needs to be to perform a transplant.
Less risk of post-transplant complications
In addition to being better accepted entirely by the body, cord blood stem cells have significantly reduced rate of post-transplant graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). GVHD is when the transplanted cells attack the body. It’s a major complication of stem cell transplants. Risk of GVHD after a stem cell transplant depends on the relationship between the donor and the receiver according to the National Institute of Health:
Part of this better acceptance by the body is because cord blood stem cells have rarely been contaminated with latent viruses. The same is not true for stem cells from other sources. For this reason, cord blood stem cells have been dubbed “privileged” because they haven’t been exposed to any diseases.
- Identical twins: very low chance of suffering from GVHD
- Blood-related family members: 35%–45% chance of GVHD
- Unrelated: 60%–80% chance of GVHD