A process known as cord blood banking offers expecting parents the opportunity to collect and store cells with regenerative potential that are found in a newborn’s umbilical cord blood after birth. The most recent report from the National Cord Blood Program states that over 35,000 cord blood transplants have been performed worldwide.

In the past, cord blood has been used to help rebuild a person’s blood and immune system after chemotherapy or radiation. Doctors use cord blood stem cells as part of the patient’s treatment to help rebuild a healthy immune system.

What is regenerative medicine?

The last few years has seen a shift in using cord blood stem cells from exclusively for transplant indications into the growing arena of regenerative medicine. “Regenerative medicine refers to a process of using living cells to potentially replace or ‘regenerate’ humans cells that have been damaged by disease, genetics, injury or simply aging in order to restore or establish function in a patient,” explains Morey Kraus, Chief Scientific Officer at ViaCord.

Some of the degenerative diseases that are being studied for cord blood safety and efficacy are those with injury to tissues and organs such as the brain, pancreas, liver, heart, bone, muscle or blood. More studies are ongoing. “Regenerative medicine, relatively speaking, is in its infancy in terms of study and practice,” adds Kraus.

“Early results show that when patients were given an adequate dose of their own cord blood stem cells, their Gross Motor Function Measure improved.”

Further studies of cord blood use

According to Kraus, “This new [cord blood application] shift is based on the maturation of clinical studies conducted at Duke University — testing the safety and efficacy of a child’s own [cord blood] in children with brain injuries, such as those with cerebral palsy (CP), which results from in utero or perinatal injury to the developing brain.”

A phase 1 clinical research study successfully demonstrated safety, and a phase 2 study followed to determine efficacy. Early results show that when patients were given an adequate dose of their own cord blood stem cells, their Gross Motor Function Measure improved.

According to ClinicalTrials.gov, a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Duke University also conducted a phase 1 clinical research trial using cord blood stem cells to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The full results of the phase 2 CP study and phase 1 ASD study are expected to be published soon, while additional studies are underway to evaluate cord blood use in siblings and even unrelated children.

Participating in cord blood banking

Some expecting parents may hesitate to bank their baby’s cord blood based off of some common misconceptions. The biggest misconception is that it’s too expensive, but the monthly cost of a TV service well exceeds the monthly cost of paying down the initial fees for cord blood banking. Another is confusion over who will use it; either the baby the cord blood was collected from or the sibling may be able to use it, but it depends on the condition being treated. Lastly, expecting parents may decline banking cord blood because they want to delay cord clamping; however, even if you choose to delay clamping the cord, you can still collect cord blood.

“For over 20 years, ViaCord has participated in application developments to increase the value of cord blood stem cells,” says Kraus, “all in an effort to help as many families as possible.” Many ViaCord familes have used their banked cord blood in the phase 1 and 2 CP studies and the phase 1 ASD study. Additionally, research is being conducted in regenerative medicine using cord blood stem cells in tissue degeneration of brain and lung injuries, as well as autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

“I’ve been in this industry for 25 years and I’ve never been more optimistic about the potential of cord blood,” Kraus says. “It’s rewarding to go to work every day for these families. That is why we do what we do every day at ViaCord — it’s about the families.”