Umbilical cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after delivery. In order to prepare for labor, the mother’s body goes through a process known as a maternal-fetal transfer. During this process, a transfer of cells occurs in order to boost the mother’s and infant’s immune systems. As a result, the blood remaining in the umbilical cord after delivery is considered a rich source of stem cells. Cord blood banking allows parents to store this precious blood for later use in the event of a serious medical diagnosis such as cerebral palsy or leukemia. Cord blood stem cell preservation involves cryogenically freezing the blood for future medical use. This innovative process allows the stem cells to remain viable for decades.
Why is Cord Blood Processed?
Cord blood is processed before it’s stored to ensure that it’s ready for transplant use in the future. The key to the entire process is to extract the highest amount of stem cells possible. In order to accomplish this, the blood is separated into a layer of plasma, a buffy layer, which is the in-between layer, and a layer of red blood cells. The in-between layer contains both stem cells and white blood cells. Certain types of processing methods are more efficient than others when it comes to the ability to extract more stem cells.
There are many different types of processing methods available, and the type of processing method used can potentially affect the purity of the stem cells. Parents don’t typically ask a bank how the cord blood is processed, despite the fact that it has such a major impact on the viability of the cells.
Each type of processing method works to reduce the number of the red blood cells. These blood cells can have a negative impact on a cord blood transfusion. In order for the cord blood to be effective for future medical treatment, there must be a determined number of stem cells present. Some facilities prefer to use processing methods that are fully automated, which can ensure a level of consistency with every collection. The original processing method called HES is still preferred by some facilities because it has a proven track record.
Click here to learn more about cord blood banking and processing methods in our guide.
As we mentioned processing is done to extract stem cells and minimize the red blood cell count, but it’s also done in order to prepare the blood for cryopreservation. A type of cryoprotectant must be added to the blood in order to prevent the cell membranes from rupturing. Once the cryoprotectant has been added, the blood is then slowly brought down to freezing temperatures. This method of slowly bringing the blood down to freezing temperatures is what prevents the stem cells from ceasing to correctly function. When the process is complete, the blood is stored at one hundred and ninety degrees Celsius in vapor phase nitrogen.
PrepaCyte CB: This is considered one of the best processing methods and it’s widely used in many banks across the country. Research has shown that this method has been known to result in better treatment outcomes. The difference here involves the reduction of white and red blood cells that remain in the cord blood after processing is complete. And as we have mentioned, less red blood cells can mean a higher stem cell count, equaling more effective treatment.
HES: Earlier on we briefly mentioned that HES is often the processing method chosen by many cord blood bank facilities because it has been widely used in the industry for years and has been proven to be effective. This processing method has been used since the late 1980s and continues to be the sole processing method for many of the major cord blood banks all over the country.
AXP: This type of automated processing method limits human intervention and thereby minimizes processing and cord blood banking costs. In order to separate the plasma and red blood cells from the stem cells, this process uses optical detection. However, there has been a flaw found with using this processing method. In order for the system to obtain more white cells, it is forced to obtain more red cells because there is some degree of overlap because the layers are in contact with each other. The result is an increase in the number of red blood cells, which can have a negative impact on the effectiveness of treatment.
Sepax: Another type of automated processing method, Sepax uses light instead of optical detection to detect and separate the plasma and red blood cells from the stem cells. However, it also has the same flaw as the AXP process.
What is Engraftment
With a transplant, the time to engraftment is how most physicians determine whether or not a particular cord blood processing method is successful.
So, what is engraftment?
Engraftment is an exciting process of its own. When engraftment occurs the infused stem cells begin introducing healthy, new cells into the bloodstream. When a patient has undergone a treatment that can negatively affect a person’s immune system, this type of transplant can help a patient to recover at a much faster rate. As an example, when a patient undergoes chemotherapy, the treatment kills off cancer cells, however, it also kills healthy cells off as well and leaves the patient’s immune system weakened, vulnerable, and unable to defend the body against pathogens.
Successful stem cell transplants with a fast engraftment time means that there is less risk for serious complications during a time when the patient’s immune system is barely functioning.
While a faster engraftment time may only involve a matter of a few days, this faster time can be a matter of life and death for the patient.
As you can see, the type of cord blood stem cell preservation and processing methods used can have a major impact on how effective stem cell treatment will be. Because of this, it’s important that you discuss your options in order to learn what types of processes are commonly used and what the success rate of that particular process is.