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What is the difference between cells from cord blood and cells from normal blood and bone marrow?

In everyone’s blood there are mature white and red blood cells. However cord blood also contains stem cells, which don’t occur on blood after childbirth. The most important type is hematopoietic stem cells, which are able to differentiate into white and red blood cells or platelets. Cord blood also contains other stem cells able to differentiate into muscle and bone cells, insulin producing cells, cardiac muscle cells etc.

After birth, hematopoietic stem cells are only found in bone marrow. However these cells could be influenced by factors such as environment, aging and lifestyle. The ability to reproduce itself is decreasing. Cells from cord blood are young, collected at age zero and have the highest ability to reproduce. Also cells from bone marrow are usually extracted from the already ill patient and so there is a risk they will be contaminated by cancerous cells or affected by a previous treatment.

What kinds of diseases are treated by cord blood?

Cord blood donated by mothers to public bank is used to treat diseases where the transplantation of hematopoietic cells from a donor is needed (allogenic). In Japan and the USA cord blood is the most common source of hematopoietic cells for allogenic transplantations for children.

Child’s own cord blood could be used for autologous transplantation, for any diseases where autologous bone marrow is used. Those are especially some childhood cancers (neuroblastoma, medulloblastoma), lymphomas, acquired disorders of hematopoiesis, autoimmune diseases etc.

The use of autologous cord blood is possible for adults too. In fact the number of disease treatable by autologous cord blood increases with age. There are hundreds of clinical studies searching for the treatment potential of cord blood:

Clinical trials with stem cells from umbilical cord blood

Can cord blood be used for a sibling or another member of the family?

Cord blood can not only be used for the child it was collected from, but also for their siblings. Treatment of some diseases required hematopoietic cells from another person – a donor.

For successful stem cells transplantation from a different person, donor must be compatible with the recipient. The HLA antigens (certain tissue characteristics, present on white blood cells) are compared. With siblings there is a 25% chance of absolute compatibility. When searching for a suitable donor in international registers, often no compatible donor can be found amid millions of donors. The use of child’s cord blood for other members of the family is improbable.

Is the amount of collected cord blood important?

Every collection of cord blood is specific; the amount collected depends on several factors such as the size of the baby, the size of the placenta, the length of the umbilical cord, the amount of leftover blood in the placenta etc. For the actual use of cord blood the volume is not important. What is important is the total amount of nucleated cells, which is detected during processing. The number of cells in each collection determines the maximum weight of the patient for whom it can be used.

Can cord blood be collected when giving birth by Caesarian section?

Cord blood can be collected during Caesarian section; experiences with such collections are very positive. The health of the mother and child is the main concern however and if there are any complications it is up to the physician to decide whether to go ahead with the collection.

How long can cord blood be stored?

Based on our current knowledge it is estimated that cord blood can be stored indefinitely, or at least for one human lifetime. Institutions that monitor the storage of biological material (FDA, EMEA) have not published any restrictions on the usable life of stored cord blood.

Research and the usage of frozen live cells (sperm, bone marrow etc) show that cryoconservation in liquid nitrogen keeps the cells viable for several decades. Oldest frozen live cells successfully used in medicine were 50 years old. Because cord blood has only been cryoconserved in the past couple of decades, experimentally verified cells have only been stored for over 30 years.