A few of you asked me if I banked my children’s umbilical cords, and yes, I have banked 3 out of 4 of my children’s stem cells. My eldest was born in London 7 years ago, but I didn’t store his cord blood as I was still too new to mummyhood to understand its significance. Since coming to Dubai, and after much research and investigation, we ensured our other children’s cord were banked at birth. This is a personal choice for each family, but I just wanted to share what I have learnt over the years about stem cells and one thing I learnt is that cord blood stem cells are the best stem cells to bank, the younger the better. For those of you with the opportunity to consider this, it is worth investigating more into the whole process before making your decision. I spoke to the Managing Director of Cells4Life MiddleEast, Darryn Keast, to help us understand the science behind stem cell banking and how technology has moved forward in the last 28 years when the first cords were banked, and more importantly, all the people it has helped.
What is cord blood banking?
Cord blood banking is the process of collecting the blood from your newborn’s umbilical cord in a simple and painless procedure that usually only takes less than five minutes. This is done right after birth and once the umbilical cord is cut. The collected cord blood sample is then sent to the laboratory, undergoes testing and processing and then frozen in cryogenic storage tanks for long-term preservation of 20 years and more.
Can you tell us some of the benefits?
#Cord blood banking provides parents the opportunity to capture unique stem cells that can potentially treat many diseases.
#Your baby’s cord blood is strictly reserved for your family only. It is 100% match for your child and there’s 25% chance of being a perfect match to siblings.
#The success rate of transplants using cord blood from a relative or a sibling is twice that for a child, compared to the one from a non-relative.
#When you save your baby’s cord blood privately, it carries your child’s identity so that you can repossess it in future for use.
#The odds of a person needing some form of stem cell transplant by age 70 are 1 in 200. Your baby’s banked cord blood can protect your child long after he or she reaches adult life.
What is the process behind cord blood banking?
When you decide to do cord blood banking, you will need to sign the storage agreement first. Once you submitted the signed agreement and paid the initial deposit, you will receive your cord blood kit to be used for collecting the cord blood sample. On the delivery day, your OB-GYN or midwife will do the collection and once the cord blood sample is packed accordingly, the courier will pick up the kit and ship it to the lab for processing. You will be notified about the initial testing results within 2-3 days after the sample is received at the lab. And within 4-6 weeks, you will receive your official testing certificate once the balance payment is settled.
Where is Cells4Life based, and where do you store the cord blood?
Founded by Dr. Jeff Drew in 2002, Cells4Life is based in the UK and cord blood samples are stored in 2 separate geographical locations, in Essex & Sussex.
There are quite a few cord blood banking companies in the Middle East now, which can be confusing for expecting mums, can you tell us how to choose the right company?
#Ask for recommendations from your family, friends and doctor or midwife. They may have experience dealing with a cord blood bank before.
#Check the profile of cord blood banks to determine which of them has the highest level of experience with cord blood banking in the Middle East. Finding a bank who store cord blood samples in a safe location is also important. Your child might not need to use their cord blood for many years so their sample must be kept in a very safe and stable location. Ideally you should find a cord blood bank who store cord blood samples in multiple locations for additional safety.
#Check if the cord blood bank has the right licenses/accreditations and have fulfilled all regulatory requirements. A well-audited company assures you that all cord blood samples are screened, processed, and stored following the strictest quality assurance guidelines.
#Find out some specifics of how they process the cord blood samples. For example, how quickly will they receive the cord blood? What delivery method will they use? How will the sample be packaged? Will it use a special cooling device for transport? How quickly will the sample be processed and stored once it reaches the facility?
#To ensure the sample is processed immediately and safely, the cord blood bank should have a very rigorous and well-planned schedule. Look for details of the collection and storage methods and if you don’t find a great deal of detail, ask them questions.
#You should find out how long the cord blood bank has been operating. An experienced cord blood bank is more likely to have a successful track record and follow good business practices. Stability matters with companies offering cord blood storage services — you are looking for a reputable company with long term success.
#You also need to check if the cord blood bank has Business Continuity Insurance. This form of insurance means that if the company experience financial problems, your child’s umbilical cord stem cells remain safe.
Can you provide us with some facts and figures about how cord blood banking can aid with certain diseases or medical conditions?
#More than 80 conditions can be treated such as solid tumours, anaemia, and leukaemia.
#Approximately 70% of all transplants have been done on siblings.
#More than 304 children had been treated with cord blood stem cells for cerebral palsy by 2009.
#More than 35,000 cord blood transplants have been performed to date.
#The first successful umbilical cord blood transplant was done in 1988. More than 28 years on, the recipient is well and a father in his own right.
#1 million hematopoietic stem cell transplants have been performed worldwide.
#1 in 3 individuals might benefit from regenerative medicine.
#47% of privately banked cord blood releases have been for use in regenerative therapies.
In a case where a family needs to use their cord blood in the future, what is the process for releasing that should they live in another country?
Your baby’s cord blood sample will be released when a transplant physician indicates that the stem cells are required by the family for a transplant. Once the request has been received, the stem cells are checked for compatibility with their recipient.
If the stem cells are found to be compatible, the stem cells are tested again for viability and potency before being shipped to the treating physician. Once all testing is done, we’ll ship your cord blood sample to the transplant facility for free.
Are there certain countries that will not allow the stem cells from cord blood banking to be used?
No. When you banked your baby’s cord blood privately, you and your family can use it on any transplant centre that allows cord blood stem cell treatment.
Stem cells can be obtained from different sources now; can you explain the differences between cord blood stem cells and other sources?
Stem cells found in the cord blood are considered to be the ‘youngest’ and ‘freshest’ types of stem cells. What this means is that because they are just a minute old and do not have the immune history that other stem cell sources such as bone marrow and peripheral blood in our bodies have. They are more readily accepted by the patient in a transplant setting, and studies show there is a lower incidence of Graft Versus Host Disease (when the patient’s immune system rejects the transplanted cells).
Stem cells found in the cord blood also have a broader match potential in comparison to stem cells from other sources because they do not need to be an exact genetic match due to the nature of the stem cells present in the cord blood. Having cord blood stem cells stored at birth means that they are readily available to be shipped immediately should the need for transplant within the family arise. This saves valuable time searching public banks for an exact genetic match for the patient.
Are there more families choosing to do cord blood banking? What has been the growth of cord blood banking in the UAE?
Yes, more parents are aware now that cord blood can be saved privately and that it can potentially save their child from many medical conditions like leukaemia and other blood diseases.
The media has reported that between 2011 and 2013, there was a 48.4% increase in the number of cord blood units stored in some facilities located in the UAE (Ismail, 2013).
The keys to this popularity are the growing awareness of what stem cells from umbilical cord can do and the fact that there is a prevalence of genetic disorders in the region. Stem cell research has shown that cord blood can potentially treat some genetic conditions like cerebral palsy and thalassaemia which often affect children in the UAE.
Expectant parents often search for more information about cord blood banking from their OB-GYN or midwife, the internet e.g. forums and even their friends or relatives.
If a parent is considering multiple children, should parents consider doing it for all their children?
Having the umbilical cord blood of each sibling stored offers your family more flexibility if stem cells are needed. Your children will have the highest chances of compatibility with their own stem cells, but having their sibling’s stem cells available may also be useful. Having more stem cells available may also be beneficial for both parents and grandparents, as medical research opens up many more treatment possibilities. Not only will preserving stem cells help your children, it can help your entire family.
How long can this cord blood be stored for?
Research tells us that stem cells from umbilical cord remain viable after 23 years of storage (Verter, 2015). Research into how much longer stem cells can be cryogenically frozen for is ongoing, but at this point there is potential for many decades of storage. It is widely believed in the medical community that cord blood stem cells may be cryopreserved for an unlimited or unspecified period of time.
Cells4Life provides 20, 25 & 30 year storage terms and will be extended as required scientific evidence becomes available for the safety of long-term storage.
Can any obstetrician be qualified to take the cord blood sample?
Yes, as long as they have the knowledge or experience in collecting cord blood samples. When you decide to do cord blood banking, it is important to tell your doctor or midwife in advance about your plan so that they can prepare for it if they haven’t done it before. We usually send training videos and other materials to help educate the procurer if it is their first time to collect the cord blood sample for our clients. We also have a printed instruction manual on each of our collection kits that shows the step-by-step process of doing the collection correctly.
How much does cord blood banking cost in the UAE?
Our Gold Service (Volume-Reduced Storage) starts at AED9900 for 20 years storage. While our Platinum Service (Whole Cord Blood Storage) starts at AED12700 for 20 years storage. We offer storage term options of 20, 25 and 30 years.
For more information, please go to www.medcells.ae