After choosing a name for your newborn, the next decision you’ll need to make is whether or not you want to save their cord blood. It’s a choice you will need to make swiftly, as the window to successfully store your child’s cord blood and cord tissue is a relatively small one.
While there is a lot of information available for expecting parents, sifting through all the options to find the best cord blood bank can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not exactly familiar with all the terms and technology.
For those looking for a little guidance in the decision-making process, we’re here to help. Here is a guide highlighting what to look for and reviewing which cord blood bank the best fit for your family’s specific needs.
We have researched eight of the most reputable private cord blood banks in the United States—Alphacord, Americord, Cord Blood Registry, CryoCell, HealthBanks, Lifebank, StemCyte and ViaCord—to see how they each stack up against one another.
Choosing a Public Cord Blood Bank vs. Private Cord Blood Bank
The first choice you’ll need to make is whether you want to store your child’s cord blood with a public bank or a private one.
In a public cord bank, you donate your newborn’s cord blood, where it’s stored for use by anyone who may need it for a transplant. It is free to donate, but in the process, you sign away all rights to your baby’s cord blood. This is an option that may be best suited for the greater good, but it is not one that has the induvial health of your child in mind.
Also due to strict requirements and standards, most public donated cord blood is discarded, only approximately between 25 percent and 40 percent ends up being stored. Meaning, there is no guarantee that your child’s cord blood will ever be used.
In a private cord blood bank, you pay to preserve and store your baby’s cord blood for their own use in the future (or for the use of a close family member). You control the cord blood, and you make all the decisions about its use. However, private cord blood banks do charge for processing and storage. Costs can range from anywhere between $600 to over $3,000 for cord blood collection, in tandem with smaller annual storage fees for the duration of your plan.
A private cord blood bank may be something to consider if you have a family history of certain genetic diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma or sickle cell disease. Banking cord blood could not only benefit your child in the future, but it could also be a better match for any immediate family members who are battling such illnesses.
With more advancements being made in the field of cell and gene-based therapy, having genetically unique cells available may be a great benefit to your family.
Comparing Cord Blood Processing Methods
If you do decide to move forward with a private cord bank, the most important factor to consider is the processing method being utilized. Please note that not all cord banks are created equal in this regard. Different banks can implement a variety of processing methods, and each can yield different results.
The ultimate goal of cell processing is to isolate and extract the maximum amount of valuable stem cells from the cord blood without contamination or damage. Preserving the highest quality and quantity of cells ensures they will be viable and ready for future clinical use.
Most private cord blood banks choose between the following two methods.
This is the most common cell processing method used in the majority of cell banks. Manual processing is a very detailed method that allows small cord blood samples to be processed. It involves taking the cord blood, mixing it with a processing agent, running it through a centrifuge and separating red blood, white cells and plasma by hand. The major drawback here is because it is an intensive process that involves meticulous oversight by a skilled professional, it is subject to human error and contamination.
Out of the eight cord blood banks we looked at, Alphacord, Americord, Cryo-Cell, Lifebank, StemCyte and ViaCord all seem to utilize manual processing. This is likely due to the lower overheads and costs involved.
Automated Cell Processing
The other major method is automated cell processing. Cord blood is automatically processed in a highly sophisticated, FDA approved, and sterile closed device such as the AXP® II and Sepex System. The advantage of automated cord blood processing is that it lowers the cost of processing cord blood and significantly limits the need for human intervention (and error).
However, the one drawback is that the devices needed to achieve this process are more expensive upfront and that may be reflected in the final cost of the service.
The Best Cord Blood Banking Storage Technology
The technology used to store your child’s cord blood is just as important as the technology used to process it.
This is where public cord blood banks have the advantage over most private banks. While the majority of privately owned banks use a fairly standard MVE Cryopreservation tank, public banks require more advanced systems.
Cord blood stored for public use must meet the legal definitions of a “drug” and requires a biological license application to be listed as a “biological product.” That means the quality of publicly stored cord blood is under stricter scrutiny from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are additional steps and measures public banks must take to meet these FDA requirements. Hence, many public banks opt to use automated processing and smart robotics storage systems to eliminate human error and lower the risk of contamination.
Most public banks such as the National Cord Blood Program, Cleveland Cord Blood Center, Carolinas Cord Blood Bank and MD Anderson Cord Blood Bank use a robotic controlled storage tank known as the BioArchive® Smart Cryostorage System to achieve a higher standard for their end product.
Smart cryostorage tanks are far more expensive than the standard ones, thus most private banks will choose to go the standard MVE route. Since there is no mandate that requires them to use a robotic system, most will choose the cheaper option in favor of profit margins.
However, there is one exception. The only private cord blood bank in the United States that uses the BioArchive® system is HealthBanks.
The HealthBanks umbrella of brands also includes automated cell processing technology manufacturer ThermoGenesis, a giant in the clinical biobanking industry. This gives the brand access to proprietary systems like the BioArchive® Smart Cryostorage System and the AXP® II along with the entire suite of ThermoGenesis biobanking systems.
Cord Blood Banks That Offer Cord Tissue Storage and Processing
The best cord blood banks are not just limited to only storing cord blood. The umbilical cord tissue itself has been found to be an excellent concentrated source of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC). MSCs are currently being used in experimental treatments for osteoarthritis and sports injuries, as well as cell therapies that differentiate them into various tissues and organ cells (cardiac, nerve, cartilage/bone, and muscle). Instead of discarding the cord tissue, many people are now choosing to preserve it right along with the cord blood.
Currently, there are two methods that cell banks use to process cord tissue:
Full/Segmented Cord Storage
The umbilical cord is collected at birth, washed at the lab, immersed in a cryoprotectant agent and then cryopreserved. Some banks divide the cord into smaller segments and then store it that way. It is important to note that in this process the MSCs are not isolated from the rest of the cord tissue. The hope is that, in the future, these stem cells can be retrieved from the cord tissue with high yield and viability.
Cell Culture Processing (Isolated MSC) Storage
This process is designed to extract the MSCs from cord tissue through cell isolation, expansion and culture. The extracted cells are then placed in a cryoprotectant agent and immediately cryopreserved. This method is a lot more involved but produces a higher cell count and continued cell growth as well as a clinical ready-to-use cellular product.
Most private cord blood banks do not offer cord tissue processing (MSC) because it is deemed too costly. Even though cord tissue processing (MSC) might make the cells far more viable and clinical ready for future use, the technology, skill and manhours involved generally make it financially unviable.
Cord Blood Banks That Offer Other Services
Beyond cord blood and cord tissue processing, many of the banks we looked at also offered a variety of other servicers geared toward preventative (or anticipatory) care.
These services include placental stem cell and tissue banking, as well as adult immune cell banking.
Placenta Stem Cell and Tissue Banking
In addition to cord blood/cord tissue placental blood and tissue can also be a significant source of perinatal stem cells. These stem cells are being heavily researched for their application in diseases ranging from heart disorders to certain cancers.
Adult Immune Cell Banking
Immune cell banking is a relatively new banking service. Immune cells are all the cells that make up your immune system, including T-cells, B-cells, NK cells, neutrophils cells, monocytes, dendritic cells, etc. New immunotherapies, such as CAR T-cell, CAR NK and dendritic cell therapies, are currently being developed to leverage these cells and offer new, experimental treatment options for cancer patients.
To date, HealthBanks and CellVault are the only two cell banks to offer immune cell banking and HealthBanks is only cell banking network to offer both adult Immune cell and newborn cord blood banking services.
If you’re looking to be proactive about your health, it might make sense to work with one company for all your needs to help not only streamline the process, but also to qualify for discounted pricing and bundle packages.
Comparing the Best Price for Cord Blood Banking
Pricing might be the biggest factor in your decision-making process when comparing the best cord blood bank for you. In our research, we found the price of standard cord blood storage for the first year is generally comparable across the board. However, there are a few things you should look for when comparing blood banks that could change the final price.
It is important to factor in the price of both the initial processing and the annual storage fee as they may be separate charges. Also, be sure to find out if there are any additional hidden account, shipping or administration fees associated with opening a new account. Lastly, you should inquire about any cancellation fees in case you want to change your mind at any point, as it is not always waived.
Most of these companies offer rotating seasonal specials and bundle packages for multiple services. Shopping around is your best bet in order to get the greatest value for what you and your family needs.
We recently saw HealthBanks announce that they will be offering a $599 introductory price and price match program on its cord blood services. Americord has also announced a price match program to CBR, ViaCord and CyroCell, this might be your best chance to shop around and receive some higher-end services at a lower price point.
The Choice is Yours
Whatever option you end up choosing, make sure it’s the best cord blood bank option for your needs. Leave yourself plenty of time during your pregnancy to do the research and have the right conversations. Take a look at your family history and see if being proactive about your family’s health makes the most sense for you. Also, don’t be afraid to direct any questions about the collection procedures, risks or donation process to the cord blood banks themselves or to your health care provider.