Quick - What's the most precious thing you wish for your baby? Without wasting any moment, let’s tell you that, in all probability, it’s - a long, happy and healthy life, isn’t it?
However, for those parents whose baby, in an unfortunate turn of events, is born with a serious health condition, a medical treatment remains a ray of hope. There are a plethora of advanced medical treatments available, depending on the diagnosed condition. However, the long diagnostic odyssey of some of the conditions can be quite rattling for any parent. Especially, getting the right diagnosis and treatment, at the right time. Not to mention, the added burden of burgeoning treatment costs that increases with passage of time!
But the picture isn't entirely as grim as it may seem, especially if the treatment requires a stem cell transplantation. The arrival of umbilical cord blood stem cells as a bankable (pun intended) option for safe transplants has rejuvenated many hopes, both among parents as well as the medical fraternity. Curious to know why and how?
Then, let’s discuss the benefits of umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants, what makes it better than bone marrow transplants, its cost and success rate!
Benefits Of Umbilical Cord Blood Transplants
Cord blood is the blood left behind in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby's birth. Stem cells obtained from the Umbilical cord blood have great potential and are used for lifesaving treatment options. For patients looking to find suitable donors, the rich hematopoietic cells of umbilical cord blood offer considerable advantages like -
- The relative ease of procurement: Umbilical cord blood is collected at birth, tested, and stored. It is readily available in times of need. Therefore, once you preserve your baby’s cord blood stem cells, you don’t have to worry about the donor backing off at the last minute. Plus, there is an increased availability of matched unrelated stem cell donors.
- Less stringent criteria for matches: Adult bone marrow requires 9-10 parameters to be matched. However, for umbilical cord blood, 6/8 is a partial match, which is also acceptable for stem cell transplants. Thereby making it 10-100x more easier to find a match 1, 2.
- Absence of risk to the donor: Since cord blood is collected right after the birth of the baby, is tested and cryopreserved hence they have lower chances of getting contaminated.
- Low likelihood of transmission of infectious agents.
- Low risk of graft-versus-host disease: Umbilical cord blood has a lower risk of graft-vs-host disease (GVHD)4. GVHD is a disease wherein the donated stem cells perceive the recipient's body as foreign and attack them.3
- Reduced morbidity and mortality often associated with Bone Marrow and Peripheral Blood stem cell transplantation5
So, if you are soon-to-be parents and looking for ways to assure your baby's future good health, then this is probably the best time for you to consider cord blood banking. Even more so if there is a history of genetic conditions that run in your family.
Need more proof? Then let’s take a quick look at the success ratio of cord blood transplants compared to bone marrow transplants.
Cord Blood v/s Bone Marrow Transplants: Success Rate
Umbilical cord blood is rich in stem cells and are quite similar to stem cells present in our bone marrow. However, when compared to stem cell transplants with donor bone marrow, cord blood stem cell transplants lead to lesser immune system incompatibilities, like graft-versus-host disease6.
A recent study at University of Colorado showed that cord blood transplant can outperform a matched sibling donor transplant. A matched sibling donor, so far, was considered the ‘gold standard’ in stem cell transplant treatments. This study not only demonstrated reduced graft-versus-host disease, but also showed a slightly lower rate of relapse in cord blood stem cell transplant patients compared to those who got matched sibling donor transplants7.
In addition to that, cord blood stem cells are immunologically naïve. As the baby grows in a protected coop of the mother’s womb, it is less likely to catch infection. This makes the cord blood stem cells less reactive than stem cells extracted from an adult donor 8.
In some cases with blood cancers (leukemia, lymphoma), a bone marrow or cord blood transplant can prove to be a better treatment option or potential cure9.
As per a scientific review of stem cell transplantation outcomes, umbilical cord blood has emerged as a rich source of hematopoietic stem cells. The review showed promising statistics, mentioned below10 -
- The overall rate of single-unit engraftment is 89%
- Chronic GVHD (graft vs host disorder) was low at 28%
- The risk of relapse in a year is as low as 12%
- High disease-free survival of 68%
What makes it even better is quick availability of frozen cord blood samples and the noninvasive nature of the procedure10.
Umbilical Cord Blood Transplant: The Cost-Effective Alternative
Transplantation with umbilical cord blood stem cells are relatively less expensive than adult bone marrow stem cell transplants. Let us explain with a few statistics below:
In India, the cost of a matching, related donor HSC Transplantation (HSC= Hematopoietic stem cells that are primitive, multipotent cells that can develop into all types of blood cells11) is approximately INR 11–17 lakhs. For an unrelated matching donor, the HSCT cost is approximately INR 21–28 lakhs (excludes the graft cost)12. Also, there can be other additional costs associated such as hospital visits, post-operative care, and other cumulative costs.
Comparatively, as per a research by University of Minnesota analysis spread over 5 years, it was found that the recipients of umbilical cord blood (UCB) transplant had a substantially low healthcare cost burden. Researchers found that while at the onset UCB transplant seemed costly, due to better transplant outcome, such as low risk of GVHD, the overall cost burden was lower compared to other graft sources 13.
When you choose LifeCell’s Community Banking Program to preserve your baby’s cord blood, not only your baby, but the baby’s siblings, parents, and grandparents can have a fair chance of finding matching cord blood units when the need arises. You also get the added advantage of free unlimited stem cell retrievals as well as financial assistance of 20 lakhs towards the treatment costs for parents and children.
Summing Up - Awareness Is The Key!
So friends, here’s a quick summary of how umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants are a better choice:
- They can be used in the treatment of various disorders including some blood cancers
- They are cost effective compared to adult bone marrow transplants
- Have lower relapse rate
- Have lesser immune system incompatibilities (like GvHD)
However, the only hitch is, probably, that cord blood stem cells are not available in abundance as they should be. In order to improve their availability, it is important to create better awareness regarding the benefits of cord blood stem cell banking. Parents should be educated on the benefits of cord blood banking as well as their options for preserving their baby's cord blood.
So, at your next doctor visit, do not forget to ask your OB-GYN about banking your baby’s cord blood!