Since the first stem cell transplant occurred more than 50 years ago (1957), there has been a nearly exponential increase in stem cell transplants, and in late 2012, the millionth stem cell transplant occurred, a landmark event in stem cell medicine.
It is clear that the stem cells contained within cord blood banking now have the potential to improve and save lives. Since the first cord blood transplant was performed in 1988, stem cells derived from umbilical blood have been used in more than 40,000 transplants worldwide.
Cord blood stem cells have distinct advantages over other sources, including that they are young, adaptable, and pure. These traits result from cord blood stem cells being the earliest (non-controversial) stem cells that can be extracted from a living human, and therefore, they haven’t been exposed to viruses, chemicals, or pollutants in the environment that can alter cell function.
While bone marrow stem cells are the most commonly recognized type of stem cell used in transplant, cord blood stem cells are increasingly showing advantages over other stem cell sources, including reduced immune reactions (such as GvHD) and a greater flexibility for HLA-mismatched cord blood units to be used in transplant.
However, many expectant parents still do not fully understand the significance of cord blood storage or grasp the technical aspects that characterize it. This is also true of many investors who are evaluating opportunities for investing in the cord blood and tissue banking market.
Cord Blood Terms and Nomenclature
To fully understand the service of cord blood banking, the 14 terms below must be defined. Master these definitions, and you will have a solid framework for understanding the cord blood banking marketplace and how it could impact you.
Cord Blood: Cord blood is the blood from the placenta drawn through a newly severed umbilical cord. It may be collected for either research purposes or for possible transfusion into the same or another human at a later time.
Cord Blood Bank: Any company or organization offering products/services to include the extraction, storage, sale, or use of cord blood or cord tissue.
Cord Blood Market: This is the market for the extraction, storage, sale, and use of cord blood and cord tissue.
Cord Blood Storage: Cord blood storage is the collection, processing, and cryogenic storage of cord blood under sterile conditions. It can either be publicly donated at no-cost or privately stored for a fee.
Cord Blood Transplant: The transfer of cord blood containing hematopoietic stem cells into the same (autologous) or another (allogeneic) person as a form of cellular therapy. It is one type of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, with the other common methods being bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell transplant.
Cord Tissue: Cord tissue is the physical tissue that forms the umbilical cord in a newborn, through which cord blood flows and can be collected. It is largely composed of mesenchymal connective tissue and a gelatinous substance known as Wharton’s Jelly. Cord tissue is a rich source of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).
Cord Tissue Storage: Cord tissue storage is the collection, processing, and cryogenic storage of a section of cord tissue under sterile conditions. It is typically provided as an add-on option during private cord blood storage. It is not offered by public cord blood organizations because there are not yet any FDA approved uses for transplant of cord tissue mesenchymal stem cells into humans.
Hematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs), also known as Cord Blood Stem Cells: The blood present in a newborn umbilical cord contains circulating stem cells known as hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). HSCs are blood stem cells that give rise to differentiated blood cells. They are present in large quantities in cord blood.
Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT): The transplantation of multipotent hematopoietic stem cells that can be derived from bone marrow, peripheral blood, or umbilical cord blood. It is usually performed for patients with cancers of the blood or bone marrow, such as leukemia and multiple myeloma.
Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs): MSCs are stem cells that prefer to differentiate into connective tissue. They are multipotent stromal cells that can differentiate into osteoblasts (bone cells), chondrocytes (cartilagecells), and adipocytes (fat cells). As mentioned, they are prevalent in cord tissue.
Private Cord Blood Bank: For-profit companies that offer the services described above for a fee, such that the cord blood or tissue that is stored is available exclusively for individual or family use.
Public Cord Blood Bank: Not-for-profit organizations that accept free donations of cord blood for public storage, because processing and storage costs are covered through federal, state, or private funding sources. In this case, the cord blood units are stored for use by any member of the public who requires a cord blood transplant and is a genetically compatible match.
Stem Cell Biobanking: Stem cell biobanking is the storage of diverse types of stem cells, including cord blood stem cells, cord tissue stem cells, adipose-derived stem cells, dental pulp stem cells, bone marrow stem cells, and more. Similar to cord blood storage, it usually involves sample processing and cryogenic storage under sterile conditions.
Wharton’s Jelly: Wharton’s Jelly is the gelatinous substance contained within umbilical cord tissue. It contains the youngest, most primitive mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) within the human body.
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