Frequently Asked Questions
Below you will find answers to the questions that we get asked most frequently. If your question is not answered below, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
The Science - What are stem cells and how are they used?
Stem cells are a class of undifferentiated cells (that is they are not biologically ‘committed’ to become any particular tissue) that are consequently able to differentiate into specialised cell types. Commonly, stem cells come from two main sources, the embryo (embryonic stem cells) and fully developed or adult tissue (adult stem cells).
Umbilical cord blood is an accepted source of stem cells for any of the diseases where bone marrow stem cell transplants are a standard therapy. Cord blood stem cell transplants have been used since 1988. In 2002 the first person in the UK received a cord blood transplant.
Cord blood stem cells are used as an alternative to bone marrow and have been used in the treatment of a range of diseases including leukaemia, immunodeficiency, sickle cell anaemia, lymphomas and other diseases of the blood.
For some conditions there may be a genetic predisposition to that disease and, therefore, the child may not be able to use his or her own stem cells. In these cases, a matched sibling’s stem cells would be the first choice before looking for alternative donors.
Research is also continuing into the possibilities of treating diseases such as breast cancer, HIV, diabetes and disorders of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The main advantage of using cord blood over bone marrow is that the stem cells, if stored, are readily available whereas it may take a long time to find a suitable bone marrow donor. Also, bone marrow donation can be an invasive and painful process. As the cord blood and stem cells stored belong to the donor child, the risk of rejection is eliminated and there is a greater chance of the stem cells being suitable for other members of your family should the need arise.
Literally just that! Stem cell storage is the collection and preservation of stem cells that are derived from umbilical cord blood and tissue. These are cryogenically frozen to save them for potential use in the future.
When a baby is born there is a unique opportunity to collect the baby’s umbilical cord blood. The cord blood is normally discarded as clinical waste, but an increasing number of parents are opting to collect and store their child’s cord blood stem cells at birth. In recent years the number of conditions that stem cells can treat has vastly increased; who knows what the future holds?
Cord blood stem cells are blood stem cells (haematopoietic stem cells) and can be used to generate red blood cells and cells of the immune system. A hematopoietic stem cell is a cell isolated from the blood or bone marrow that can renew itself or differentiate into a variety of specialised cells. These cells are regarded as ethically acceptable and should NOT be confused with the more controversial embryonic stem cell.
Cord blood is the leftover blood that is found in the umbilical cord and the placenta.
Cord blood and cord tissue are two different things that play two different roles when it comes to protecting your child.
Umbilical cord blood contains something called Haematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs). These cells are used to treat different types of blood cancers and immunodeficiency disorders. These are blood-forming cells.
Umbilical cord tissue contains what are called Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs). These cells have the ability to differentiate themselves into other cells as needed such as muscle cells, neural cells etc.
By storying both cord blood and cord tissue, you are giving your child the best possible chance should something go wrong. With the ability to treat 80+ diseases, it’s the best option when it comes to stem cell banking.
Our Family Plus packages offer both cord blood and cord tissue banking. Find out more about our Family Plus packages.
In addition to storing your child’s umbilical cord blood stem cells you also have the opportunity to store the cord tissue with our Family Plus packages. The cord tissue, or Wharton’s Jelly as it is sometimes referred to, is also a rich source of mesenchymal stromal stem cells. Mesenchymal stromal stem cells have shown that they have the capability of regenerating damaged or diseased tissues and can differentiate into a range of tissues including bone, nerve, tendon and muscle.
It is hoped that in the future they will play an important part in a variety of medical and clinical procedures. There is extensive research which is on-going into the clinical uses of these stem cells. However, it must be stressed that these trials are in their infancy and thus, the use for this tissue is currently not proven. It is, however, due to the potential use of these cells that many of our customers have already taken the option to store their child’s cord tissue.
The cord tissue is prepared and processed for long term storage. Sections of the cord tissue are stored so that in the future when the technology is available, there is a potential that the mesenchymal stem cells could be isolated if required.
Cells which have the capacity to mature into tissues such as muscle, bone, skin and fat, and also play a role in mediating the body’s inflammatory response to damaged and injured cells.
MSCs have the potential to play a role in the treatment of disease and considerable research is focused towards their use in regenerative medicine and the treatment of disease such as heart disease, stroke, neurological conditions, autoimmune disease and injury. MSCs are found in cord blood, but cord tissue (Wharton’s jelly) has significantly more MSCs.
Haematopoietic stem cells is an immature cell that can change itself into different types of blood cells. These cells have the ability to change into white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
There is an ever-expanding field of research devoted to discovering further cell types in the cord and uses for them. Perhaps of most importance is that the tissue of the umbilical cord is a rich source of mesenchymal stem cells.
Biovault Family offer to freeze both cord blood – for the haematopoietic stem cells, and whole cord tissue - to facilitate the future potential of MSCs. Scientists continue to research the best methods to extract and grow cord stem cells and so better techniques may be developed than are used currently.
The plasma is discarded as there are no cells in it. Whilst plasma contains some useful proteins the volume of plasma from an average cord blood harvest is not a therapeutically relevant or useful volume.
Many plasma-derived proteins previously used to treat disease now have nonblood product derived, manufactured alternatives e.g., the clotting factors 8 and 9 are now never obtained from plasma when used to treat haemophilia A and B. Some cord blood banks store cord blood samples whole, however in order to utilise any potential benefit from stored plasma the entire sample would need to be defrosted and processed thereby destroying the more valuable stem cells.
The washing process to remove the red blood cells will then cause a significant loss of the valuable stem cells, this is why public and private banks around the world volume reduce then freeze the cells. Plasma will contain some growth factors which help stem cells to survive and grow. These growth factors are produced constantly in much larger amounts by other cells in the body, such as those lining blood vessels and many are available as non-plasma derived manufactured products e.g. erythropoietin, and GCSF. The amount of erythropoietin and GCSF contained in the discarded plasma is therapeutically insignificant.
Making the decision – choosing your cord blood bank
Private cord blood banks store the umbilical cord blood for the donor’s own use. This provides the benefit of being a 100% genetic match for the donor and a much better chance of being a suitable match should a sibling require the stem cells.
Public banks store donated umbilical cord blood and it is available for anyone around the world to use. This means that it may not be available for the donor’s use if required. At the present time public banks do not offer the opportunity to donate cord tissue. In the UK there is the NHS Cord Blood Bank and the Anthony Nolan Cord Blood Bank.
Private and public banks are not in competition for umbilical cord blood, it is the actual collection of the cord blood that is the limiting factor for the public banks in the UK. Although the number of hospitals in which you can donate your baby’s cord blood is growing there are still only a handful of hospitals that can collect cord blood.
We take the responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of your child’s cord blood sample very seriously. When your sample is stored with Biovault Family, you can rest-assured that it will be processed and cryopreserved as soon as possible after the birth of your baby, to maximise the sample’s viability for future use.
If a section of the sample were to be transported to another location, this would be after the controlled freezing process – at a time when the sample is very delicate, and the risk of damage to the sample is high. Therefore, we believe that it is best to protect the sample within its allocated storage location, so that it’s safe and ready if you ever need it.
There are several things to look for when it comes to choosing a cord blood bank to store your baby’s umbilical cord blood and tissue.
- They offer the option of storing for 25 or 50 years, with the option to provide an annual banking service.
- They have experience in processing and storing blood and cord tissue cells. If a company has processes 100,000 or more units, this is a good sign.
- They have correct and up-to-date accreditations. We are accredited by the Human Tissue Authority, the Joint Accreditation Committee for the European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplant, the American Association of Blood Banks, the Cord Blood Association, and the National External Quality Assessment Service.
- They are flexible when it comes to payment options – a flexible payment option helps to take the pressure off.
After you have had your 20-week scan. After this period the sooner you contact us the better to ensure that we have everything in place before your baby is born. You can call us on01752 753723 or request a brochure through the website with all you need to know.
This is not a problem. If you ever need the cord stem cells for therapy, they will be shipped in a vessel that keeps them frozen for up to 5 days (this will cover transporting the cells to virtually anywhere in the world), so there will be no loss of viability. The cells are only thawed at the clinic where they will be used.
This is where Biovault Family is unique and stands out from other companies providing cord blood and cord tissue banking in the private sector.
We know that you are investing in the future of your baby’s and family’s health. This is a long-term investment and you need to be sure that your investment is safe.
Biovault Family has set up an Escrow account with a separate company, where the money you pay for storage goes into an account that is held in trust by an independent third party ensuring that there are sufficient funds to carry on storing your stem cells whatever happens to us.
Biovault Family has made sure that we are prepared for any major incident by carrying out a comprehensive risk analysis to ensure that cord blood samples remain as secure as possible and that they remain unaffected by any adverse event. For this reason we have published a Business Continuity Plan which is also sometimes referred to as a Disaster Recovery Plan.
This is a fully comprehensive plan which looks at all known eventualities including power and gas outage, fire, floods, server break down and many more. We have made sure that we have contracts where necessary to ensure that we have companies that would support us during any difficult times. All single points of failure have been eliminated ensuring that processes are not affected by equipment failure. There is an onsite Uninterrupted Power Supply that in the event of a short-term power failure will allow us to complete any critical processes. In the event of a long-term power cut however, we are in a position to restore power within 4 hours using a mobile generator which we are able to connect directly to our power distribution boards.
All our quality system, records, client and patient data is backed up locally and also securely backed up to a remote data recovery centre. This centre also provides us with work area recovery should our offices become inaccessible. This provides us with a quiet office space and access to all our records almost instantly meaning we can calmly get on with running the business and keeping our clients informed of the situation.
All cryogenic vessels we utilise onsite are the latest design and are capable of running without supply for up to two weeks. The Liquid Nitrogen levels can be monitored manually, as can the filling meaning there is never any risk to the cord blood samples during a Power or Liquid Nitrogen Supply outage.
This is just a brief outline of the detail that has gone into our business continuity planning, however if you would like to know more, or have a specific question then please contact us and our customer care team would be happy to answer your query.
We are required by the regulations in the UK to test the mother’s blood for HIV I & II, Hepatitis B & C, Syphilis and HTLV (human T lymphotropic virus).
Biovault Family does not store whole blood, in line with most public banks around the world. It’s volume reduces the cord blood.
We are not just a cord blood bank, but an experienced tissue bank that processes and stores tissue and stem cells for the NHS and private hospitals. We have released over 3,500 peripheral blood and bone marrow stem cells for transplantation. We have released the highest number of privately UK banked cord blood samples for transplantation.
Our storage guarantee ensures that your child’s precious cells are securely stored for the full 25 years, we are the only company to provide this service.
What happens on the day of collection
When you go into labour, if you are using a healthcare professional arranged through us you or your partner will need to call the number, we provide you with to inform us that you have gone into labour and are in hospital. You can then be assured that they will do the rest to ensure a successful collection.
All you need is to remember to bring your collection kit with you.
We will send you an information pack that will contain everything you need to read, complete and return to us in order to join Biovault Family. Once you are entirely happy and we have received everything we will then take the first payment for the kit. We will then send you a collection kit for you to take with you to hospital when you go into labour, as soon as you sign up with us.
The red blood cells discarded are of no therapeutic benefit. If a cord blood sample is stored whole without removing the red blood cells the sample will have to be washed before it can be transplanted as the red blood cells will fragment during the freezing process and are then toxic if transplanted.
The washing process to remove the red blood cells will then cause a significant loss of the valuable stem cells, this is why public and private banks around the world volume reduce then freeze the cells. Plasma will contain some growth factors which help stem cells to survive and grow.
These growth factors are produced constantly in much larger amounts by other cells in the body, such as those lining blood vessels and many are available as non-plasma derived manufactured products e.g. erythropoietin, and GCSF. The amount of erythropoietin and GCSF contained in the discarded plasma is therapeutically insignificant.
Yes, you can still do delayed cord clamping (DCC) with Biovault Family. The WHO guidelines for Delayed Umbilical Cord Clamping have a number of recommendations for different indications, but in summary “Delayed umbilical cord clamping (not earlier than 1 min after birth) is recommended for improved maternal and infant health and nutrition outcomes”, and that “Late cord clamping (performed approximately 1–3 min after birth) is recommended for all births”.
NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) whose role in the UK “is to improve outcomes for people using the NHS and other public health and social care services” by “producing evidence-based guidance and advice for health, public health and social care practitioners”. NICE’s statement on DCC is that “Women do not have the cord clamped earlier than 1 minute after the birth unless there is concern about cord integrity or the baby's heartbeat”.
With this in mind, Biovault recommend DCC of an absolute minimum of 1 minute. Please note, that internal data suggests a correlation between increasing delay between birth and collection, and lower collected volumes of cord blood for banking.
Collecting umbilical cord blood is a simple, safe and painless procedure that usually takes less than five minutes and is done immediately after birth. Once the stem cells have been collected they are cryogenically frozen and can currently be stored for at least 25 years.
Privately banking your baby’s umbilical cord blood stem cells ensures that if your baby or a matching family member ever needs them, they are immediately available for their use only.
- Once the midwife has checked that you and your baby are OK, the cord blood and cord tissue can be collected by the healthcare professional using our stem cell collection kit. The collection kit contains everything required by the healthcare professional to collect the cord blood stem cells and cord tissue
- Collecting the cord blood stem cells and tissue is simple and can be done before or after the placenta has been delivered and the umbilical cord clamped and cut.
- A sample of your blood (the maternal blood sample) is also required and can be collected before or after your baby has been born. We need to check for certain viruses, this is a requirement in the UK.
- Using the simple instructions in the kit, the stem cell collection samples need to be packaged correctly ready for transportation to our laboratory.
- Simply get your birthing partner to call us and we will arrange for a specialist courier to collect the stem cell collection kit from you.
- The courier will deliver the kit to our laboratories ready for processing and storage.
Simply call us and we can put you in touch with a phlebotomy company who can arrange to perform the collection for you.
The 3rd stage of labour occurs after your baby has been born – this is the stage where your womb contracts and the placenta comes away and is passed through your vagina.
By having a managed 3rd stage of labour, you will have an injection of Syntocinon that will help to speed this process up.
After collection has happened
Biovault Family use a specialist courier service and make all necessary arrangements for you – all you need to do is notify us once the sample is ready for collection by the courier. We will then dispatch a dedicated driver to you, whose sole responsibility it is to collect the parcel containing your sample and facilitate the transportation of this parcel back to the laboratory. Our target transit time to get the sample back to our laboratory is 48 hours with 24 hours contingency.
The collection kit we provide includes a fully validated courier box for the return of the sample, which is made from high-tech thermally insulating material. This material ensures that the sample is kept at a suitable constant temperature throughout the duration of the transportation period, minimising cell damage from the moment the sample is packed into the box to its receipt at the laboratory for processing.
*Please note that courier service options may vary for international customers.
The mother, as the child’s guardian, has control over the stem cells, until the child is of legal age. Stem cells will not be released by Biovault without the mother’s consent or the child’s consent, once they reach legal age.
Once we have successfully processed and stored the stem cells we will contact you to let you know everything is OK. Once all the test results have been reported we will contact you for the final payment and then send you your baby’s stem cell storage certificate.
Once we have successfully processed and stored your baby’s cord blood and cord tissue samples, we will call you. We will then have to wait for the test results from the maternal blood sample to be reported back.
We will send you a full set of your results which will include the following;
- Viability of the cord blood stem cells
- Total leukocyte count
- Total number of CD34+ cells (stem cells)
- Maternal blood test results
- Microbiology results (cord blood and cord tissue)
If your sample does not meet our acceptance criteria, then we will discuss your options with you.
When the test results have cleared, we will take the second and final payment for processing and storage.
We will send you your baby’s storage certificate.