Pregnant women sometimes have questions or concerns regarding umbilical cord blood donation. Two common questions are: Can their infant’s cord blood be used to benefit MS research? Another question: Is it worthwhile to “bank” their infant’s umbilical cord blood for the benefit of a family member who might need the umbilical stem cells for future treatment of their MS?
The following points have been identified through investigation of this topic.
Can cord blood be used for MS research?
Research is being conducted using cord blood cells to analyze immune response and other factors that may eventually shed light on causes and treatment of MS. However, at present there is no treatment available involving cord blood cells. Nor do we know of any sites that are looking for cord blood specifically for MS research.
Bone marrow transplantation, also called hemopoietic stem cell transplantation, is under investigation for the treatment of severe forms of multiple sclerosis. The long-term benefits of this experimental procedure have not yet been established. In this procedure, the individual receives grafts of his or her own blood stem cells, and thus donor stem cells are not used or needed.
Umbilical cord blood is being studied for potential use in a wide variety of life-threatening diseases because it is a rich source of blood stem cells. Transplantation of blood stem cells from umbilical cords has been used successfully to treat several pediatric blood diseases, including sickle cell anemia and cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. This procedure is still considered investigational. There is currently no solid evidence that umbilical cord blood stem cells have the ability to be transformed into other types of cells, such as replacement nerve tissue or myelin-making cells.
Storing cord blood for future treatment
The second question concerns “storing” the newborn’s cord blood for the child’s future use or a family member’s future use. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement saying that, "Cord blood donation should be discouraged when cord blood stored in a bank is to be directed for later personal or family use." They state: "No accurate estimates exist of the likelihood of children to need their own stored cord blood stem cells in the future. The range of available estimates is from 1 in 1000 to more than 1 in 200000.51 The potential for children needing their own cord blood stem cells for future autologous use is controversial presently." Read the complete statement here.
Particularly for individuals with MS — for whom there is no available research on the benefits of umbilical stem cell transplantation — banking is discouraged.
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly encourages umbilical cord donations for general research purposes. Donors are encouraged to contact a cord blood bank by the 35th week of pregnancy.
The procedure for obtaining the cord blood involves clamping the umbilical cord at the time of birth. The small amount of blood remaining in the umbilical cord is drained and taken to a cord blood bank. It is free to donate.
Read more about cord blood donation and options for umbilical cord banking and donation on the web site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.