By Cristina Mestre Ferrer BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 12/01/2014

After delivery, the umbilical cord was thrown away because it was considered to have accomplished its function. However, this situation has undergone a drastic change ever since the birth of the first child of the Prince and Princess of Asturias. Now, more and more people decide to keep the cells of the umbilical cord in private banks.

In the umbilical cord there’s a high quantity of stem cells, which have healing properties, even though further research is required.

The different sections of this article have been assembled into the following table of contents.

Cryopreserving stem cells

If parents decide to cryopreserve the blood of the umbilical cord, they must talk in advance to the hospital. If their option is to donate it to a public bank, they need to find out if the hospital is associated to an umbilical cord blood national bank. If they opt for a private bank, the company will send them the necessary kit for the extraction and storage of the umbilical cord blood.

It’s advisable that the extraction of the blood of the umbilical cord takes place while the baby is still linked to the placenta. This is an easy procedure that doesn’t imply any risk for the mother or the baby. Once the blood has been extracted, it is kept in special containers that maintain it at a low temperature until its final storage in the bank.

Cryopreserving stem cells of the umbilical cord

Advantages

The benefits of keeping the stem cells are:

  • Easiness to obtain them, without any risk for the baby or the mother.
  • They are usually the cells selected for blood or marrow transplantation.
  • They don’t generally produce any immunological boomerang effect on the patient, since they are genetically identical cells.
  • Immediate availability: waiting for a donor is not needed.
  • Easily replicable cells in the laboratory.
  • The boomerang effect likelihood in blood relatives is reduced.

Disadvantages

There are also several drawbacks when it comes to using the stem cells of the umbilical cord, such as:

  • Insufficient cell number: there’s a minimum number so that these cells can be used afterwards, which depends on the size of the umbilical cord.
  • Limited existence: these cells can only be obtained and used once.
  • Not enough information: most of the private banks haven’t still been willing to use the stored cells, so their real effectiveness is unknown.
  • New technique: the freezing has only been scientifically proved for 15 years.
  • Restrictions in autological treatments: the blood cells of the patient can’t be used for healing a congenital illness; it would be better to use the umbilical cord blood of a compatible sibling. That’s why turning to private banks is so polemic: most of the illnesses that can be treated with the umbilical cord are congenital, which means the blood of the patient can’t be used.

In the private banks, the blood is used with patients that weight a maximum of 45 to 50 Kg, which means that their use in adults is highly limited.

Private banks cells of the umbilical cord

Private banks

There are more and more private stem cells banks. The advantages of these centres are that, if their services are hired, the procedure can be carried out in any hospital, as the company sends an extraction kit and they take care of the transport to the bank.

The prices may vary from 1,500 to 3,000 euros per each extraction, and 30-100€ per year must be added to this as maintenance. It must be clarified that the doctor who extracts the blood at the hospital may want to be paid for his services.

Most of the companies that store blood of the umbilical cord offer as publicity a list with more than 80 diseases that can be cured, thanks to the stem cells of the cord. What they don’t say is that 90% of these illnesses are congenital, which means that, if the parents don’t suffer from them, it’s extremely unlikely that the baby has to endure them, although not impossible.

Stem cells umbilical cord

It’s also important to highlight that, if an illness is congenital, it means that it is a birth disease and it’s due to an hereditary defect or a genetic alteration from the beginning, which means that the blood of the patient would have the same genetic alterations, and these cells couldn’t be used for the treatment.

The other option, apart from not keeping them, is to donate them to a public bank of stem cells of the umbilical cord. This can’t be done in every hospital, since the centre must be linked to a bank. There are currently 6 banks in Spain: Málaga, Barcelona (that also keeps the extractions from Aragón and Baleares), Galicia, Madrid, Valencian community and Tenerife. The creation of a bank in every autonomous community is intended, so that the process is more accessible and more patients can be treated.

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Authors and contributors

 Cristina Mestre Ferrer
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biological Sciences, Genetics & Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV). Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the UV and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Embryologist at IVI Barcelona. More information
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