Responses - Stem Cell Collection, Acquisition & Research

"Don't Throw It Away!"

The saving of the umbilical cord blood and the cryopreservation of the stem cells that are abundant in the cord blood represents one of the greatest recycling programs in the history of mankind.

In the past, the umbilical cord blood/placenta blood was considered medical waste and disposed of after the birth of a newborn.

Today, the umbilical cord blood is considered a life saving source of stem cells that are a 100 percent biological match to the newborn.

In addition, the collection of the cord blood offers absolutely no risk to either the mother or to the newborn.

"Don't throw it away" is an ICBS slogan that was coined by one of the ICBS founders, Curtis L. Cetrulo, M.D. and refers to the choices that couples have when deciding what to do with this valuable resource.

The choices include: discarding the blood, donating the specimen to a public cord blood bank to help someone in need of a stem cell transplant, or banking the specimen with a private cord blood bank for the child that has just been born or for his/her family.

Discarding the cord blood at the time of birth as is commonly done in 99 percent of all deliveries and makes no sense whatsoever.

Each year approximately 9000 patients are diagnosed with diseases that can be treated with stem cells and nearly 70 percent of those in need of a stem cell transplant are unable to find a match. Often times even if a match can be located it is after many months and the disease has progressed to a point of no return. For these reasons alone discarding the cord blood does not make any sense when so many people could benefit from the cells that are thrown away.

The choice to donate the cord blood to a public bank seems to be a logical solution to the problem of a lack of HLA matches. The option of donating cord blood to a public bank was problematic for many years because of the lack the funding needed to process the large numbers of cord bloods that are needed to create a complete registry. Often times, public banks exhausted the funds available in the first few months of the year and had to wait for more funding to collect more samples. Each year in Spain approximately 1700 units are processed for a public registry. With the new federal legislation passed in Dec 2005, this problem is no longer an issue. Public banks are moving forward rapidly.

The third option to save the cord blood with a private bank makes sense for individual families especially if the medical history of the family includes a disease treatable by stem cell transplantation. This option is also a good idea for families without a history of diseases treatable at this time because the cells that are saved are the newborn's actual cells. In addition, research on umbilical cord blood stem cells are proving that these cells have the capability if placed in the right environment to develop into stem cells from all systems of the human body. This term is called Plasticity.

In summary, there are approximately 4 million births each year in the United States. Each birth represents the one and only chance to collect the umbilical cord blood stem cells that could cure many diseases including leukemia.

Stem cells, present in umbilical cord blood/placenta blood have been a source of cells for umbilical cold blood transplantation (UCBT) since the first case was reported in 1989 in the New England Journal of Medicine in a patient with Fanconi's anemia. 

By November 2004, over 6000 patients had received cord blood transplants.  2000 of those cord blood transplants occurred in 2004 alone.  The treated patients have had a variety of diagnoses beyond the treatment of Fanconi's anemia, and today over 70 diseases can be treated with cord blood transplantation. 

Some of the diseases for which stem cells can be used for treatment have been compiled by the National Marrow Donor Program:

If a family has a positive history for one of the disorders listed on the disease list, then the cord blood should definitely be saved. It is incumbent on physicians, especially obstetricians and pediatricians to alert patients of the possible use of stem cells from the umbilical cord/placenta to potentially treat siblings or other family members.

– International Cord Blood Society.