Cord Blood Treatments – Allogeneic Transplants

From online pregnancy forums to feedback from customers and expecting moms, one thing is clear to us—the topic of cord blood can be confusing. With so much information available (and some of it conflicting), it can be hard for families to get the facts they need to make an informed choice about banking their baby’s cord blood. Today, we’re shedding some light on one commonly misunderstood topic—how cord blood is used in a stem cell treatment.

To start, there are two primary types of stem cell treatments:

  • Allogeneic transplants, which occur when the patient receives stem cells from an unrelated or related (family member) donor.
  • Autologous transplants and infusions, which use the patient’s own stem cells for treatment.

Today’s post focuses on allogeneic transplants and how siblings can play an important role. As parents we often think of hushing late night conversations, fights over toys and the inevitable “he hit me first!” squabbles when we think about siblings. But when it comes to allogeneic transplants, a sibling can go from a rival to a savior.

How does an allogeneic transplant work?Within the blood system, there are red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. These cells are produced in a person’s bone marrow. If a problem occurs in the production of these cells—either there aren’t enough cells, they’re being made incorrectly, or they aren’t functioning properly—there is a possibility that an allogeneic cord blood transplant could help. Examples of diseases treated with an allogeneic cord blood transplant  include sickle cell disease and acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Before an allogeneic transplant can be performed, the donor’s stem cells must be matched to the recipient. Like a fingerprint, there are unique markers on the surface of nearly all cells in the body. These enable your immune system to distinguish between cells that belong in our body and cells that do not. Finding as close of a donor-recipient match as possible is important because it reduces the risk that the transplanted cells will be rejected by the recipient’s immune system and/or the donor cells will attack the recipient’s body, what is known as graft vs. host disease. With cord blood stem cells from a family member, the chances of finding a match greatly increase.

After a match is identified, the transplant recipient will generally undergo a conditioning regimen that prepares the body for a transplant by destroying the diseased cells along with the recipient’s immune system, so it will not attack the donated cells. After the conditioning regimen, the recipient receives an infusion of cord blood stem cells. The transplanted stem cells move into the spaces inside the bone where they create new marrow and build a new healthy blood and immune system.

broandsis1For families with a history of diseases treatable by cord blood stem cells or families of mixed ethnicities/multi-racial backgrounds, cord blood banking can be an especially important part of family planning. The search for a match for a child from mixed ethnicities/multi-racial parents could be made more efficient if the donated cells came from another child from the same parents. Plus, studies have shown that recipients using a related source of stem cells, such as a sibling’s cord blood, in an allogeneic stem cell transplant may have higher survival rates than a transplant from an unrelated donor.

Connecting siblings through the gift of cord blood
Because we know how valuable having access to a related source of cord blood stem cells is for families in potential need of an allogeneic transplant, ViaCord partnered with Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) to create the Sibling Connection program. This program allows qualifying families to have their cord blood collected, processed and stored with ViaCord for 5 years at no cost if they have a child who may be in need of a sibling (allogeneic) cord blood stem cell transplant.

To hear about how an allogeneic transplant helped Nick, a vibrant young boy with leukemia, read his inspiring story. And stay tuned for Part II of this blog post where we discuss autologous treatments (using a patient’s own cord blood) and their growing use in the treatment of cerebral palsy and Type I Diabetes.

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