Stem Cell FAQ
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Cord Blood (sometimes also called "placental blood") is found in the baby's umbilical cord and is normally discarded, along with the placenta, as medical waste after the birth. Most importantly, cord blood is the baby's blood, rather than the mother's and is rich in stem cells.
Stem cells are regarded as the 'building blocks' or "master cells" of the blood and immune system as well as other types of cells and tissues. They are "unspecialised" cells, which can develop into specialised cells, such as red blood cells or other specific body tissue to treat specific diseases.
They are "multipotent", meaning they can give rise to many different types of cell in the body. Research is also being conducted into making them "pluripotent", which would allow a greater number of treatments possible, since they would be able to give rise to just about any type of cell in the body.
There are currently three main sources of stem cells:
- Bone Marrow (also known as adult stem cells)
- Peripheral Blood (i.e. the blood which circulates around your body)
- Umbilical Cord Blood
Research is also being conducted into embryonic stem cells, which is the subject of major debate around the world. There is no connection between this research and the collection and storage of your baby's stem cells, except for the fact that storage of a baby's stem cells could obviate the need for embryonic stem cell development in that child's later life.
Stem cells extracted from cord blood are the "youngest" type of stem cells and, as a result, have therapeutic advantages over those collected through other means.
They are less likely to contain DNA abnormalities (for example, caused by sunlight and other toxins) and are less likely to be rejected in transplantations, even if not an exact match. On a practical level, the collection of cord blood has fewer risks, such as those associated with the use of a general anaesthesia when harvesting bone marrow.
Furthermore, they are immediately available for use if they are required for treatment, which could improve the chances of effective treatment by minimising the chances of disease progression while a suitable bone marrow donor is located
Over the past 20 years, since the procedure was developed, stem cells have been used in the treatment of many different cancers, immune deficiencies and genetic disorders. They restore function to the blood-making and immune systems, which is especially valuable if these have been damaged through illness or other treatments (such as chemotherapy). These diseases have, until recently, mainly been treated by bone marrow stem cell and peripheral blood stem cell transplantation, since umbilical cord blood stem cells have only been stored since the early 1980s.
Stem cell research holds so much promise that the number of diseases and injuries being treated is growing rapidly. Click HERE for a list of the diseases, which can be treated using stem cell therapy today.
Research is being carried out into the possible use of stem cells in the future to treat diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injury, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, to name but a few. Recent research has indicated the positive results of stem cell use in the regeneration of damaged heart muscle after myocardial infraction. It is a very exciting area of research but it does not guarantee that stem cells can be used to treat these conditions in the future.
There are different opinions on the statistics of the likelihood of using the cells. The chances of using the cells for any particular ailment are slim. However, when all the possible uses are added up then the chances increase. There is a further increase if you factor in the possibility of using the cells for brothers, sisters or even parents of the child. The main use today is the reconstitution of the blood and immune system. There are many promising research projects that are being carried out around the world on the use of stem cells. One of the most recent is a clinical trial to investigate the use of stem cells for the repair of heart muscle following a heart attack or other similar incident.
As research in this area advances, the use of stem cells will increase significantly. Keep an eye on our website for stories of interesting developments in stem cell research.
The tests we conduct on the blood mean that the stem cells are stored for both autologous and family use.
This means that the stem cells that are stored can be used for your baby, siblings or any member of the family providing they have adequate HLA compatibility. Only you can decide on the use of the cells that belong to the new born and written permission from you has to be given before the cells are released or otherwise handled.
It is a genetic fingerprint on white blood cells and platelets. HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigens) are markers on the surface of white blood cells. HLA forms the basis for recognizing and rejecting foreign tissues. These HLA antigens give the body's immune system the ability to determine what belongs in the body and what does not belong. Whenever the immune system does not recognize the series of antigens on a cell that mark it as belonging in the body, it creates antibodies and other substances to destroy the cell. Objects that the body looks for and destroys are infection-causing bacteria, viruses, tumor cells and foreign objects such as splinters. In this way, the immune system defends the body against things that can enter the body and cause harm.
In order for a stem cell transplantation to be accepted by the immune system of the person receiving the cells they must either be his own cells (in which case there is a perfect histocompatibility match) or if they come from a sibling they must be compatible enough in order not to be rejected.
There are three Class I types of human leukocyte antigens (genetic markers): HLA-A, HLA-B, HLA-C, and three Class II types: HLA-DR, HLA-DQ and HLA-DP that are important in transplantations. Since children inherit one haplotype from each parent, four different combinations are possible within a given family, so there is a one-in-four chance that each brother or sister will be a suitable match within the family.
There are over 20,000 histocompatibility types in the general population. Thus, the greatest chance of finding a matched stem cell donor exists within the patient's own family.
It is a requirement of the EU Tissue and Cells Regulations of 2006 that mandatory blood tests are performed on the donor (mother) before stem cells can be accepted for long term storage. This ensures the safety of your baby’s stem cells.
The process is simple and painless to you and your baby and takes a maximum of 10 minutes. The main priority during the birth is to ensure the health of you and your baby once born. When the trained procurer has ensured this, they will follow a simple procedure to collect the blood from the umbilical cord.
There is no risk to mother or child.
No having a caesarean section does not affect the collection process.
Once an initial check has been performed to verify that there is enough cord blood and that correct forms have arrived with the cord blood, it will then be processed and the stem cells isolated and cryopreserved for storage.
If less than 40ml of blood are collected, we may be unable to process the sample for you. The more blood, the more stem cells we can isolate and store for you. We will contact you immediately if there are any issues here.
Once we have successfully cryopreserved and stored your baby's stem cells we will call you to inform you and then the results will be sent in writing.
Cord blood stem cells are stored in a special bag that has two section to it. There is a main section where most of the stem cells are stored. There is also a smaller section that can, if needed, be separated from the main section for expansion use. This means that not all the cells have to be thawed at once.
The bag containing the stem cells is bar code labelled displaying the unique code that was assigned to the cord blood on arrival and then placed into another bag. This second bag is sealed and placed it in a metal canister that is also sealed and labelled with the bar code displaying the unique code.
The metal canister is then placed in the vapour phase of liquid nitrogen (-180C).
In line with the Human Tissues and Cells Regulations of 2006, Cord blood collection can only be carried out by trained health care professionals.
The percentage rate of failure is very low, less than 10%. The main reason for unsuccessful storage is that not enough cord blood was collected. Neither we nor the attending healthcare professional can fully control the amount of cord blood collected. For example, a low collection could be due to a short umbilical cord, a baby born earlier than full term or a baby having very low weight.
Future Health will process all samples received even if the sample is below the recommended volume of 40ml. We will then inform you as soon as the sample has been processed and stored and, if not enough blood was collected we will inform you at the time. We will then wait for of all the results to be reported back. The microbiology results can take up to 10 days to be reported back. Once we have received them, we will write to you to inform you of the situation and allow you to decide if you wish to continue store the cells if the volume was below 40ml. If you do not wish to continue to store, there would be no further charges.
Another reason for unsuccessful processing is that there may be a microbial contamination in the cord blood. When the cord blood arrives at Future Health Technologies, a small sample is taken to perform microbiology tests to ensure that the sample was not contaminated during collection. If the cord blood was contaminated then we may not be able to store the stem cells depending on the type of contamination. Again, if there were problems here, we would contact you and discuss what this means.
You, the parent/guardian(s), control the stem cells until your child reaches the age of 18. From then on your child will control them. In the unfortunate event of the parents' death then the legal guardian of the child will control the cells, again until the child's 18th birthday. The cells belong to you and you can do as you wish with them. We are only storing them on your behalf.
Stem cells extracted from cord blood have been stored successfully for twenty years already. This is the age of the oldest samples to date that have been shown to be viable. It is quite likely that they will last longer.
When the cord blood arrives at Future Health Technologies a small sample is taken to perform microbiology tests to ensure that the sample was not contaminated during collection. If the cord blood was contaminated then we may not be able to store them depending on the type of contamination. We would contact you and discuss it further.
Cell counts and other tests are also performed to ensure that the procedure has been successful.
Only if there were no problems with the cord blood, the stem cell isolation and cryopreservation procedures, would you be responsible for the processing costs. We would send a letter informing you of successful storage once completed.
All our samples are stored in tanks containing liquid nitrogen vapour. Future Health uses the type of tank that does not require any electricity to run and will remain at the required temperature even if power is not available to the facility around it. We have full monitoring systems, which themselves are protected through back-up power supplies.
We don't foresee this as a problem. Future Health have strong financial backing and are expanding rapidly. However, in the unlikely event that Future Health should cease trading, you would be able to take your samples and move them to another stem cell bank. The fact that Future Health adhere strictly to the UK Department of Health Guidelines makes it possible for you to store your sample in any similarly accredited cord blood stem cell bank.
Future Health’s Agreement with you extensively deals with all your legal rights and procedures to be followed.
Medicare Health & Living Ltd., are authorised under the European Communities (Quality and safety of Human Tissues and Cells) Regulations, 2006, to provide the services of Cord Blood Stem Cell Preservation. Thus we ensure that the Healthcare Professional procuring your child's cord blood on your behalf has been trained accordingly and meets the requirements set out in the Regulations.
We provide a one-to-one professional service to our clients and are with you from the moment you decide to store you child's cord blood continuing throughout the storage period.
Medicare Health & Living Ltd. are in partnership with Hibernian Aviva Health, whereby Hibernian Aviva Health offers to its' members a contribution towards the cost of our cord blood stem cell preservation service, (Mum must be a member & waiting periods may apply). For more information contact Hibernian Health on 1850 71 66 66.
Future Health Technologies Ltd are HTA Licensed and MHRA accredited and one of the world's most advanced, private family stem cell storage facilities.