stem cell banking-FAQ

What are stem cells?
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells which can keep dividing (while remaining undifferentiated) or can differentiate into specialized cells (e.g. blood cells). During the human gestation period, for example, embryonic stem cells develop into more than 200 different types of body cell. The stem cells themselves are unable to cooperate with their neighbouring cells; they cannot for example combine to pump blood through the body like myocardial cells. Neither can they transfer electrical impulses like nerve cells. However, they can differentiate into these cell types when necessary.

Where are adult stem cells found?
Adult stem cells can be found in almost all body tissues, for example in umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, adipose tissue, in the bowel, the brain and the skin.

What is so special about stem cells from cord blood?
Stem cells from cord blood are very young and vital, but nevertheless count as adult cells. Moreover, there are absolutely no ethical implications associated with the extraction and use of these cells. Freezing these cells stops their biological clock, preventing them from aging and protecting them from exposure to normal environmental influences. In addition, stem cells from cord blood can be isolated easily and without any pain whatsoever. Their differentiation potential is no longer quite as high as that of embryonic stem cells, but higher than that of adult bone marrow stem cells.

How can the therapeutic effect of the stem cells be explained?
At present, scientists assume that stem cells primarily stimulate regeneration in the defective cells of an organ by releasing growth factors, like interleukins, neurotrophic factors and other hormons. In individual cases, it has also been observed that the stem cells in the damaged tissue integrate, thus possibly replacing defect cells. However, the exact physical mechanism has still not been clarified to date.

Do health insurance companies pay for the storage of umbilical cord blood?
Health insurance companies do not usually pay for the private storage of stem cells from cord blood. However, some health insurance companies may cover some of the storage costs. Just ask!

How likely is it that the stored stem cells will actually be used?
Everyone naturally hopes to stay healthy into old age, thus eliminating the need for the treatment of serious diseases. However, in reality, things often look different. An extract from the medical journal “The Lancet” underlines the sense of making use of the one-off opportunity to extract stem cells from cord blood even today: it states that more than 7000 transplantations with stem cells extracted from cord blood have taken place throughout the world since 1989. Research results from recent years have shown that adult stem cells are suitable for a very wide variety of applications.

What is the difference between private and public stem cell banks?
Having stem cells stored by a private company is subject to costs, whereas health insurance companies usually cover the costs of donating cord blood to a public stem cell bank. However, the stem cells in a public stem cell bank are stored anonymously and are in part also used for research purposes. With this kind of donation, you lose your entitlement to use your own stem cells. If your donated cord blood has not yet been used elsewhere, it is theoretically also possible to get your own cells back from the public banks. However, with private storage the cells remain safely in your possession, and you can use them whenever needed.

If I don’t want to store any stem cells, I can benefit from other people’s stem cell donations should I become ill. Are there any reasons which speak for the private storage of my own stem cells?
There is a study which shows that using your own stem cells or those of close relatives gives the greatest chance of healing (New England Journal of Medicine). The survival rate after one year is approx. 63 percent if stem cells from a sibling are used, but only approx. 29 percent if cells from a foreign donor are used. Moreover, the risk of a severe rejection reaction to cord blood from foreign donors is 20 percent, significantly higher than the 5 percent when using cord blood from a sibling.

How long can stem cells survive at minus 196 degrees Celsius?
It has not yet been conclusively determined exactly how long stem cells remain viable in liquid nitrogen. Based on the data currently available, the New York State Department of Health believes that correctly stored stem cells remain vital and viable for an unlimited period of time. In its own words: “There is no evidence at present that cells stored at -196°C in an undisturbed manner lose either in-vitro determined viability or biologic activity. Therefore, at the current time, no expiration date need be assigned to cord blood stored continuously under liquid nitrogen.” According to the current state of research, it is at least certain that stem cells from cord blood can be frozen for at least 15 years without losing functionality (Kobylka, 1998). Other investigations involving the freezing of a wide variety of cell types indicate that cells can be stored in liquid nitrogen for a practically unlimited period. Kobylka, P. Preservation of Immunological and Colony-Forming Capacities of Long-Term (15 years) Cryopreserved Cord Blood Stem Cells. Transplantation. 1998;65(9):1275-1278.

Is there a connection between the quantity of cord blood extracted and the number of stem cells it contains?
Yes, there is normally a direct connection here: the more blood can be collected, the greater the number of stem cells it will contain.

How can it happen that the storage of stem cells is sometimes unsuccessful?
Sometimes the quantity of blood collected is simply too small, which means that not enough stem cells can be isolated. Another problem may be the contamination of the sample by bacteria, fungi or viruses. In order to reduce this risk, the cord blood should be collected in the most sterile conditions possible. The average success rate for storing stem cells from cord blood is more than 90 percent. Reading and carefully following the instructions supplied increases the chances of success.

Does the hospital have to make additional material available for removing cord blood?
No. You receive a special collection set from A1 Medical Center containing all materials necessary for collecting the blood, interim storage and dispatching the blood samples. All of these materials are packed in double sterile packaging, which means that even in the event of a Caesarean, they can be taken into the sterile operating theatre.

If I am expecting twins, will I need two collection sets?
Yes, in this case you must request two collection sets. However, you can expect a reduced price for the second set, as A1 Medical Center charges you a lower fee for storing cells from your second child in any case.

How can I be sure than my sample is not mixed up with somebody else’s?
A1 Medical Center has two measures in place to prevent the risk of such a mix-up: 1. The collection set you ordered has its own ID number unique to this set. The number can be read like a bar code, and is affixed to all written documentation and labels for containers provided for sample storage. 2. The place where your sample is stored is saved on the computer. These “coordinates” are unique to your sample, thus facilitating – together with the ID number – clear identification.

How can I order and how is then the process?
You can only order through the website. After sending  us your application through My A1 Medical Center and we have received your payment by creditcard or paypal, we will send you all documents electronically, through email or by your smart phone application,  as well as the collection set by courier (costs included). After the delivery and the cord blood collection, through your smart phone application you order the courier. He will collect the sample after you paid him and you can trace the sample with your app. Within a week you will get updated information about the storage as well as all documents and the invoice in My A1 Medical Center account.

Do I need to find a courier myself or is it included?
No, by ordering the courier by mail or smart phone application our courier will come. This is fully included in the price. We monitor electronically the entire process and in case there is a delayed pick up we will take corrective measures.

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