Washington has state legislation around cord blood education that follows the Institute of Medicine guidelines and mandates/encourages physicians to educate expectant parents about ALL forms of cord blood banking. The Washington bill was enacted 18 Mar. 2008 and became effective 1 July 2010.
- Who is able to donate cord blood?
In theory, any expectant mother who passes the medical screening is eligible to donate. In practice, the biggest hurdle faced by families who wish to donate is finding a bank to accept their donation. There are only about 200 hospitals in the US that collect cord blood donations from births, and most of them require you to register for donation weeks ahead of the birth. The handful of programs that accept mail-in donations are opening this opportunity to the rest of the American public.
- How much blood and stem cells does a typical umbilical cord hold?
The median size of cord blood collections in family banks is 60mL or 2 ounces. That small volume of liquid corresponds to 470 million Total Nucleated Cells (TNC) or 1.8 million cells that test positive for the stem cell marker CD34. Thus, most healthy full-term babies have over a million blood-forming stem cells in their umbilical cord blood. By comparison, most public cord blood banks will only keep collections that are much bigger than average, and throw out the donations that are below a threshold of a billion TNC, corresponding to a blood volume of about 90-100 mL or 3 ounces.
Sun, JJ et al., Transfusion Sept. 2010; 50(9):1980-1987
- What are TNC, MNC, CD34+, and CFU, and why should I care?
These are all ways of counting cell types, and they tell you whether or not your cord blood collection has lots of stem cells and if they are healthy.
Stem cells happen to be Mono-Nuclear Cells or MNC: when you look at them under a microscope there is only one nucleus. Unfortunately, one of the most difficult aspects of stem cell biology is that you can't identify a stem cell just by looking at it. There are other types of blood cells which are also MNC, such as nucleated red blood cells. The only proof that a cell is a stem cell comes from how it behaves when it multiplies.
Scientists have worked for years to develop various chemical stains which have a high affinity for stem cells. The best known marker for blood-forming stem cells is that they test positive for CD34, a protein found on the surface of stem cells. But, CD34+ counts are not an accurate measure of stem cells: CD34+ results vary between labs, they can vary within a single lab, and only 1-2% of the MNC that have CD34+ are actually stem cells.
The Total Nucleated Cell count or TNC is the test most often reported as a measure of the cell count after cord blood processing. The main advantage of measuring TNC is that the count is highly reproducible within and among labs, so it can be used accurately throughout the blood banking community. Even better, the TNC count can be automated with the use of a device called a flow cytometer.
At present Colony Forming Units or CFU are considered to be the best measure of whether stem cells are "viable", or quite frankly alive. The TNC count includes both living and dead cells. In the CFU test a small portion is watched under controlled conditions to see if stem cells divide and form colonies. This used to be a subjective measure, but recently it has been standardized with technology to image the cells and count colonies in the image. The only remaining problem with the test is that it takes days for colonies to grow.