Stem cells are a remarkable resource with the potential to revolutionise medical treatments and safeguard the health of your family. As a leading provider of cord blood stem cell collection and banking in the UK, we understand that you may have numerous questions and concerns about the process, benefits and potential limitations of stem cell collection and storage. We are here to help you to make informed decisions for your family’s future.
Stem cells hold tremendous promise in the field of regenerative medicine, as they possess the unique ability to develop into various specialised cells within the body. This extraordinary potential makes them invaluable for treating a wide range of conditions, including genetic disorders, immune system disorders, and certain types of cancers. However, the key lies in collecting and preserving these cells, ensuring they remain viable and readily available for potential therapeutic use.
With advancements in technology, stem cell storage has become a reality for families worldwide. By banking your child’s stem cells at birth or preserving your own cells, you are securing a valuable resource that could prove life-saving in the future.
Making choices about your family’s health can feel overwhelming, and that’s why we’re here to guide you. We hope these answers will give you a clearer understanding of the potential benefits and considerations surrounding this innovative field of medical science.
1. What is cord blood?
Cord blood is the blood found in the umbilical cord and placenta following the birth of a baby. This blood is rich in stem cells, which are the building blocks of the body’s blood and immune system. These stem cells are unique in their ability to develop into various types of cells.
The collection of cord blood is a simple and painless procedure that takes place immediately after the baby is born. Once the umbilical cord is clamped and cut, the remaining blood in the cord and placenta is collected using a sterile collection kit. This blood is then transported to a specialised laboratory for processing and storage.
2. What is cord blood used for?
Cord blood has tremendous potential for use in medical treatments and research. The stem cells found in cord blood are particularly valuable because they are immature and have not been exposed to environmental factors or diseases, making them more adaptable and less likely to be rejected by the recipient’s immune system.
Here are some of the main uses of cord blood:
- Treatment of Blood Disorders: Cord blood stem cells have been successfully used in the treatment of various blood disorders, such as leukaemia, sickle cell disease, thalassaemia and more. These stem cells can replace damaged or diseased cells in the patient’s body, promoting the regeneration of healthy blood cells.
- Regenerative Medicine: Stem cells from cord blood are being researched and developed for their potential in regenerative medicine. They have the ability to repair and regenerate damaged tissues, offering hope for symptoms of conditions such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy and diabetes.
- Transplants and Marrow Reconstitution: Cord blood stem cells can be used as an alternative to bone marrow in certain transplant procedures. They have been successfully used in the treatment of patients who cannot find a suitable bone marrow match or who require an urgent transplant.
- Research: Cord blood is a valuable resource for scientific research aimed at advancing our understanding of stem cells and their potential applications. Ongoing studies explore new therapies, expand our knowledge of diseases, and improve medical treatments.
3. Who can cord blood stem cells be used for?
The stem cells contained in a baby’s cord blood can not only be used for that child in the future, but may also potentially be used in treatment for their siblings or other family members. The ability to use stem cells for a sibling depends on whether they have matching HLA types. The donor and patient must match 4 out of 6 HLA types for a cord blood stem cell transplant or therapy.
4. How is cord blood collected and stored?
Cord blood collection is a safe, non-invasive, and painless procedure that takes place immediately after the baby is born. Here’s a step-by-step overview of the process:
Collection Kit: Prior to delivery, parents will need to make arrangements with a cord blood bank, such as Smart Cells, to receive a collection kit. This kit contains all the necessary materials for the collection and preservation of cord blood.
Collection Process: When you go into labour, you will need to let your assigned phlebotomist know so that they can make arrangements for collection. Once the baby is born, the phlebotomist, who is trained in cord blood collection, will collect a small sample of blood from the umbilical cord using a sterile needle and collection bag or vial. Cord blood collection is compatible with delayed cord clamping. This process does not pose any risk or discomfort to the mother or the baby and should not interfere with the birth in any way.
Transportation: After the collection, the cord blood is carefully packaged in the provided collection kit, collected by a courier, and transported to a specialised laboratory. It’s crucial to ensure that the transportation process maintains the integrity and temperature control necessary for preserving the stem cells, so we use trusted couriers for this.
Laboratory Processing: In the laboratory, the cord blood undergoes processing to extract and concentrate the stem cells while removing any red blood cells or contaminants. This step ensures that the stem cells are stored in an optimal condition for future use.
Cryogenic Storage: The processed cord blood is then cryogenically preserved, which involves freezing the stem cells at very low temperatures (-196°C or -320°F) to maintain their viability and functionality over long periods. The stem cells are stored in secure, state-of-the-art cryogenic storage tanks within the cord blood bank’s facilities for 25 years.
5. What conditions can cord blood stem cells treat?
Cord blood stem cells have shown promise in the treatment of various diseases and conditions. Some examples include:
Blood Disorders: Cord blood stem cells have been successfully used to treat leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and other blood-related cancers. They can replace diseased or damaged cells and help restore the body’s blood production.
Inherited Metabolic Disorders: Certain genetic disorders, such as sickle cell anaemia, thalassemia, and Krabbe disease, can be treated with cord blood stem cells. These cells can provide healthy replacements for the defective cells associated with these conditions.
Immune System Disorders: Cord blood stem cells can be used in the treatment of immune system disorders, such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), where the body’s immune system is compromised. The transplanted stem cells help establish a new functioning immune system.
Neurological Disorders: Ongoing research explores the potential of cord blood stem cells in the treatment of neurological conditions like cerebral palsy, autism, and acquired brain injuries. While these areas are still under investigation, early studies show promising results.
Research is continually advancing, and new discoveries may expand the range of treatable conditions in the future.
6. What should I look for in a cord blood bank?
When selecting a cord blood bank, it’s crucial to consider the following factors:
Accreditation and Compliance: Choose a cord blood bank that is accredited by relevant regulatory bodies and adheres to strict quality standards. This ensures that the bank operates with the highest level of professionalism and follows industry best practices.
Here at Smart Cells, we have an HTA licence, an ISO9001:2015 certification, and participate in the UK National External Quality Assessment Service (NEQAS) quality assurance scheme for full blood and CD34 cell counting. You can read more about our accreditations here.
Storage Facilities: Look for a bank with state-of-the-art storage facilities equipped with advanced cryogenic technology. The storage should be secure, reliable, and capable of maintaining the viability of stem cells for long-term storage.
At Smart Cells, our laboratory team is dedicated to upholding the highest Quality Assurance standards. In our lab, our staff are fully trained to degree and postgraduate degree level to use globally recognised techniques and technologies. Our Scientific Director, Dr. Ann Smith, has more than 29 years of experience in stem cell transplantation in the NHS and ensures that we always meet best practices in the field.
Experience and Track Record: Evaluate the bank’s experience and track record in cord blood banking. Consider factors such as the number of years in operation, successful transplant cases, and customer testimonials.
Smart Cells was the UK’s first private stem cell storage company, incorporated in 2000. We are now part of the FamiCord Group which is the largest stem cell bank in Europe, meaning we bring in expertise from more than 20 countries. Over the past 20+ years, the stem cell samples from our banks have been used for more than 2,500 transplants. You can read some of our cord blood stem cell transplant success stories here.
Collection and Transportation Processes: Ensure that the bank has well-defined collection and transportation protocols to guarantee the safe and efficient retrieval and delivery of cord blood samples.
We use trusted phlebotomists who are trained in the collection of cord blood samples as well as couriers who are selected for their ability to maintain temperature control to preserve the sample as best possible.
Accessibility: Consider the bank’s accessibility and the ease of retrieving stored stem cells if needed in the future. Understand the bank’s policies and procedures for accessing the stored cord blood.
Smart Cells’ laboratory and storage facility is located close to Heathrow airport meaning that, should you need your sample to be released, it can quickly and easily be collected and delivered anywhere in the world quickly.
7. How much does cord blood banking cost?
The cost of cord blood banking can vary depending on several factors, including the chosen cord blood bank, the services included in the package, and any additional optional services. It’s important to note that cord blood banking typically involves both an initial collection and processing fee and ongoing annual storage fees.
Here at Smart Cells, we strive to be totally transparent about our pricing system and what you will receive in return. Our prices are based on whether you would like to collect just cord blood or cord blood and tissue, and how you would like to pay. We require a booking fee of £325, a final balance once the stem cells have been processed (the price depends on which package you choose), and an annual storage fee.
We offer an Affordable Package where you pay less upfront, or a Smart Choice package where your annual storage fee is less. We also have options for payment plans where your final balance can be split across 3 to 24 months.
Another option that may be relevant for you is that you might prefer to donate your child’s cord blood stem cells. At Smart Cells, we partner with Leukaemia & Myeloma Research UK in their Model Cell Bio Bank project. This project allows qualifying families to access stem cell storage services free of charge. We believe that access to life-transforming stem cell treatments should be available to all.
8. Is cord blood banking worth the cost?
The decision to bank cord blood is a personal one that depends on various factors, including your family’s medical history, the potential benefit for future health conditions, and your financial situation. While cord blood banking does involve upfront costs, many families see it as a long-term investment in their health and peace of mind. This blog post which compares the pros and cons of cord blood banking may help you to make a decision.
9. Are there any risks associated with cord blood banking?
Cord blood banking is generally considered safe and non-invasive for both the mother and the baby. The collection process poses no risks or discomfort during childbirth. The only things you may need to consider are the limitations of cord blood banking, which are the match probability for other family members and the likelihood that your sample will never need to be used.
10. Is cord blood collection painful?
No, cord blood collection is a painless procedure for both the mother and the baby. It occurs after the baby is born and the umbilical cord is clamped and cut. There are no nerve endings in the cord itself. The collection process involves inserting a sterile needle into the umbilical cord to collect the remaining blood..
Cord blood collection is a safe and quick procedure that takes only a few minutes to complete. It offers a unique opportunity to collect valuable stem cells without causing any harm or discomfort to the mother or the baby.