In order for a transplant to be successful, the stem cells used must be closely matched to the patient. In some cases, a family member is a match and stem cells can be harvested from his or her bone marrow. Unfortunately, 70% of patients who need a transplant must find an unrelated donor because no family member is a suitable match.1 To find an unrelated donor, patients and doctors turn to the national and international registry, which lists all cord blood units publicly banked across the world, as well as potential bone marrow donors, who are listed on a volunteer basis. At any given moment, there are thousands of severely ailing people in America searching these registries for a life-saving transplant match.
Unfortunately, there is not enough cord blood banked to treat all the patients who need it. Many Americans who may have been saved by a transplant have died before a suitable match could be found.
This can be remedied by increasing public awareness about donating cord blood. Most expectant parents are unaware of the option to donate cord blood or how to go about it. Therefore, The Brady Kohn Foundation works to educate the general public about donating cord blood, at no cost, to be stored for future medical use and listed on the registries.
For many people, a transplant may be the only hope for a cure. For these patients, cord blood has significant advantages:
- More patients are able to receive cord blood transplants. Many patients who need a transplant cannot locate a bone marrow donor. Cord blood has provided another primary source of stem cells, allowing more patients to receive life-saving transplants.
- Cord blood is ready for transplant. Stem cells from cord blood can be available for transplant in a matter of days. Publicly banked cord blood has been prescreened, tested, listed on the national & international registry, and is ready for use; on the other hand, it can take several months to find and confirm a bone marrow donor.
- Cord blood eliminates the need for donor surgery. When cord blood is used for a transplant, the need for painful bone marrow harvesting from a donor is eliminated.
- Cord blood transplants have a higher success rate. The most common and sometimes lethal complication with bone marrow transplants is called “graft-versus-host disease”. This occurs when the body’s immune system identifies the transplanted stem cells as foreign antigens and attacks them. Studies have proven that patients who receive cord blood versus bone marrow have a 20% higher survival rate. This is because stem cells from cord blood are “pure” or “primitive”, meaning that no mutations to the cells have occurred. By utilizing a well-matched CBU, a patient’s immune system is less likely to recognize the implanted cord blood stem cells as foreign, which greatly reduces the chance of rejection.
- Cord blood is easier to match. A close match is key to the success of a transplant, because the human body will reject anything that it recognizes as “foreign”. Therefore, the stem cells must be as similar to the patient’s genetic makeup as possible. Transplants using cord blood can be 20% less similar in makeup than transplants using bone marrow. This increases the chances of patients finding a suitable match for a life-saving transplant.
- Cord blood is less expensive. Bone marrow units typically cost between $60,000 and $70,000 per unit. Cord blood typically ranges about $20,000 per unit.2 This enables more uninsured patients to receive transplants, and lessens the burden on health insurance companies.
- Cord blood can increase minority matches. As a result of targeting efforts to include cord blood from diverse ethnic backgrounds, public banking has the potential to provide a racially diverse source of stem cells. This will enable a higher percentage of ethnic minorities to locate a suitable match.
- There is less risk of infectious disease transmission. Cord blood is thoroughly tested and pre-screened before it is publicly stored, and is less likely to carry infectious disease when compared to bone marrow from an adult. Therefore, cord blood transplants carry less risk of transmission of blood-borne infectious diseases.
- Cord blood has nearly infinite medical potential. Cord blood can be used for any medical treatment for which bone marrow is used. The difference is that cord blood has an enormous potential to be used in additional medical procedures in the future.