Protect your family's future health by storing your newborn baby's cord blood and cord tissue stem cells

Newsletter - February 2013

Cord Blood Collection Kits 

by Sylvana Brannon

Many parents elect to save their newborn infant's umbilical cord blood and tissue in a family cord blood bank for private storage. Typically the first step towards banking cord blood and tissue is when the mother receives a collection kit that she must safeguard and have ready at the time of birth. This article explains the contents of our collection kits and gives parents advice on how to keep them safe.

Cord blood and tissue collection kits make cord blood storage options available to many expectant mothers. Typically the midwife performs the collection, and Stem Cells Malta, being the first cord blood banking company in Malta, has trained all midwives (public, private, Malta, and Gozo) in the optimum collection procedures. The kit contains the supplies that are needed at the time of birth, and it is designed to protect the cord blood and tissue during transport to the laboratory. 

The collection kit consists of a shipping box containing the following:

  • all supplies required to collect the umbilical cord blood from the baby,
  • all supplies required to collect the cord tissue from the baby,
  • all supplies required to collect blood samples from the mother,
  • collection instructions,
  • return shipping materials, and
  • instructions on how to pack the cord blood and maternal blood and ship the kit 

Proper storage of the collection kit before the birth of the baby is just as important as shipping and handling of the kit afterward. Parents should pay attention to and follow the instructions that come with the kit. The blood vials and blood bag inside the kit contain anti-coagulants that prevent blood from clotting while the kit is being shipped to the lab. To preserve the performance of these chemicals, the kit must not be frozen, refrigerated, kept in direct sunlight, stored in the trunk of a car, or any other scenario that will subject the contents to extreme temperatures. Nor should parents open the kit and remove any supplies. The shipping box is designed to protect the supplies and maintain an even temperature. The best way for the mother to safeguard the collection kit is to keep it indoors, so that the kit stays within the same range of temperatures that a person would find comfortable. She can keep the kit with her, or she can rely on a close friend or family member to bring it to the hospital as soon as the goes into labor.

Occasionally the collection kit contains a temperature logger for random quality control purposes.  This logger monitors the temperature inside the box from the time it leaves the cord blood bank until it is returned to the bank. This is another reason why supplies should not be removed from the kit. The temperature logger is set by the bank, so it does not need to be turned on or off by the mother or the hospital staff. When the mother goes to the hospital to give birth, only then is the kit handed over to the hospital staff.

Cord blood is collected immediately after the birth of the baby. At that time, the midwife who has trained to perform the collection will use the supplies in the kit to collect as much umbilical cord blood as is feasible. Blood samples are also collected from the mother at the time of birth, or from the 37th week of pregnancy until 7 days after the birth. The parents complete the forms in the kit.  We take care of all the labelling of the collection bag with the mother's identification details. The labeled collection bag is placed into a zip-seal bag. 

Finally, the cord blood must be shipped to the lab. The bag holding the baby's cord blood and the vials holding the mother's blood samples are packaged back into the shipping box according to the instructions. Again it is important to keep the contents of the box close to room temperature. The packaging is designed to maintain an even temperature during transport and to protect the blood samples during routine handling. The cord blood and tissue must be shipped to the bank as soon as possible, so that it arrives within the specified time (normally 4 days from the time of collection). If the donation arrives after the specified time, the stem cells in the cord blood may no longer be viable and cannot be stored.

We take responsibility for packing and shipping the collection kit, so that the new parents can focus on their new baby. The hospital staff generally does not have time to perform this task. Collection kit instructions are simple and the kit is robust if it is not abused. Proper handling of the collection kit ensures that the irreplaceable cord blood and tissue reaches the bank in the best possible condition to provide healthy cells that have the ability to do what they need to do when the time comes.

Sylvana Brannon is the Director of Stem Cells Malta (previously Smart Cells Malta), and was responsible for introducing cord blood banking to Maltese families 7 years ago. She was awarded The Outstanding Young Person Award by the Malta Junior Chamber of Commerce for this initiative. She was involved in establishing Malta's licensing and standards procedures for cord blood collection, and for training all midwives in the collection procedures. Stem Cells Malta has always been on the forefront of stem cell banking, and offers storage options for cord blood, cord tissue, and dental pulp.

Stem Cells for Cardiac Patients 

Heart and vascular disease (or cardiovascular disease, CVD) are the leading causes of death and disability in the world, despite a large proportion of it being preventable. An estimated 30% of all global deaths arise mainly from heart attacks and strokes, says the World Health Organisation.

In Malta, cardiovascular disease is the major cause of death, accounting for 45% of the deaths in 2011 (slightly higher in women than in men).

One of the most promising new avenues for CVD treatment is the use of adult stem cells, to help heal and regenerate damaged hearts.

How can stem cells help the heart?

Stem cells are actually part of our natural circulating rescue system. They travel out of the bone marrow and patrol the circulation system looking for areas of injury to repair. We also have resident stem cells in every organ of the body.

The first-in-the-world stem cell research at the the Stem Cell Center of the Texas Heart Institute, and subsequent clinical trials in humans, have shown that a patient's own stem cells, harvested from their bone marrow, can help generate new heart muscle tissues and blood vessels in hearts damaged by heart attacks or severe heart failure. 

Advances in Stem Cells

After years of study, researchers at the Texas Heart Institute, led by Dr. James T. Willerson, have found that when people reach their early 60s, and they begin to have health issues with their bodies, their stem cells also lose their restorative powers. Subsequent research has shown, however, that certain specific cells can be taken from the body fat or bone marrow of healthy young individuals and may be used therapeutically in older patients without adverse immunological reaction. Clinical trials are ongoing and we are constantly learning more about this.

As a result of this work, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has established a nationwide consortium of leading medical and research institutions, the Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network (CCTRN), to carry cardiac cell therapy research forward. We are very optimistic about the future of this type of stem cell therapy.

Building New Organs and Reversing Disease

Another area of great promise is the emerging field of regenerative medicine. Dr. Doris Taylor recently joined the Texas Heart Institute as Director of Regenerative Medicine Research. Through her pioneering work, we now have the capability to deplete animal and human hearts of all of their cellular structure and regenerate the "decellularized" scaffolds into healthy organs by the infusion of stem cells. These methods also work on other organs in the body. Many believe that these "bioartificial" organs are the early steps toward our ability to grow new organs for people using their own adult stem cells. We are optimistic that the technology will allow us to begin safe clinical trials in humans within only a few years.

In sum, many advances in stem cells, genetics, and regenerative medicine hold great promise and these fields are advancing rapidly. The next decade or more will undoubtedly be a golden age for progress. We are determined to push the field forward until heart and vascular disease are a thing of the past and our children have a more heart-healthy future ahead of them.