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The benefits of cord blood banking

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Close-up of mother's hand holding newborn baby's hand

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Researchers are understanding the potential benefits of cord blood infusions as a regenerative medicine for conditions like cerebral palsy, Type 1 diabetes, autism and perinatal stroke.  

Brenda Munz, midwife and mother of two, stumbled across the information for cord banking at an after-hours GP while she was pregnant with her second child.

Next to the pamphlet on cord blood banking was another on Cell Care’s clinical trial of stem cell infusion from sibling cord blood as a possible treatment for cerebral palsy.

Her first, Brodie, has cerebral palsy after suffering a perinatal stroke.

“I’d always thought that cord banking wasn’t something that was worthwhile for my family,” she says.

“But after seeing what my daughter’s cord blood stem cells could possibly do for her brother, we signed up straight away.”

According to Graham Jenkin, Adjunct Professor at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Monash University, cord blood is the blood that remains in a baby’s umbilical cord and placental vessels after the baby has been born and the umbilical cord has been cut.

“Cord blood contains a diverse mixture of cells,” he explains.

“It’s a particularly rich source of stem cells and stem like cells, such as immune cells, which, it is believed, have the ability to protect and repair many different cell types in the body.”

Cord blood and tissue banking, therefore, is collecting and storing either part of the umbilical cord or the cells derived from the umbilical cord blood vessels, or both at the time of birth.

Cord blood can either be donated to a public cord blood bank or stored for a fee at a private cord blood bank, like Cell Care, which is Australia’s largest private cord blood bank.

“It’s very unlikely that cord blood donated to public banks will be available for the donor for subsequent use, whereas, if collected privately, it is available for the exclusive use of the donor or for a sibling,” Professor Jenkin adds.

"If the donor does not wish to have their cord blood stored or used for a clinical trial, they can donate it for our preclinical research studies at Monash University/Monash Health where we are investigating characteristics of cord blood and its potential efficacy for treatment of neonatal morbidities."

He continues that parents can opt to store their baby’s cord blood as a type of medical insurance to provide their baby, and any siblings, potential access to future medical treatments.

“But after seeing what my daughter’s cord blood stem cells could possibly do for her brother, we signed up straight away.”

The benefits

“Cord blood is used as an alternative to bone marrow transplants to treat certain blood cancers and immune disorders,” Professor Jenkin explains.

He says that over 40,000 cord blood transplants have been performed for the treatment of more than 80 diseases worldwide.

There are also various clinical trials that are exploring the future potential benefits of cord blood cells in regenerative medicine.

“My colleagues and I have undertaken extensive ‘preclinical research’ to investigate the potential of cord blood derived cells for the treatment of a range of neonatal conditions, particularly those that are likely to affect babies born as a result of high risk pregnancies such as prematurity, intrauterine fetal growth restriction, infection during pregnancy (chorioamnionitis) and birth asphyxia; all of which can affect the development of the brain of these highly vulnerable babies,” says Professor Jenkin.

He, and his colleagues at Monash Medical Centre, have also completed a Cell Care supported study of the feasibility of collection of cord blood from extremely preterm infants.

This study has informed a soon to be completed, world first, early intervention clinical trial to understand the feasibility and safety of cord blood collection and reinfusion to extreme preterm babies who are at high risk of neurological deficits such as cerebral palsy.

“We have also recently commenced a trial of the reinfusion of cord blood to babies that have suffered the rare but devastating condition of perinatal stroke,” he adds.

Other clinical research includes understand the therapeutic applications of cord blood in conditions such as Type 1 diabetes, autism and perinatal stroke.

“When it comes to sibling matching, cord blood is less immunogenic (seen as foreign by the body) than adult derived cells,” Professor Jenkin explains.

“So, by storing cord blood for each child, parents can increase the chance of finding the best source for a sibling match should it ever be required.”

When Munz’s son was three and a half years old, he participated in the first phase of a study to understand the potential benefit of sibling cord blood cell infusion for children with cerebral palsy.

“After a seven hour infusion, which was very similar to a blood infusion, we hoped to see some change in Brodie’s left-sided weakness caused by the stroke,” Munz says.

“It was only two weeks later, my husband and I noticed there was something different about Brodie but couldn’t quite place it.

“He was playing at home and then it hit us.

“He was using his left-hand just as seamlessly as his right hand. A complete first for him.

“We burst into tears. We couldn’t believe the impact of the blood cell infusion.”

What happens in the birth suite?

“Parents only have one opportunity – at birth – to collect and store their own baby’s cord blood stem cells,” Professor Jenkin notes.

For private cord banks like Cell Care, personalised collection kits are couriered directly to the parent’s home preferably around the 34-week mark, to account for early labour.

The collection of cord blood and tissue takes place after the birth, once the cord has been clamped, and is performed by a trained Cell Care collector, obstetrician or midwife.

“The procedure is painless for both mother and baby and takes around three minutes,” he adds.

“Cell Care recognises the importance of individual birth plans for parents and, thus, ensures that cord blood collection remains completely compatible with parents' choices during the birth of their child.”

Munz says that her daughter’s blood cord cells were collected while she was on Munz’s chest after the birth and before the delivery of the placenta.

“It was painless for the both of us and it didn’t interfere with my birth plans,” she says.

Munz says that she hopes more awareness is made of the potential benefits and future uses of cord blood so that expectant parents can make an informed choice on whether to cord bank.

For more information on Cell Care’s services and research, you can request a free information pack.