This Overlooked Medical Breakthrough Is Treating More Than 80 Diseases

Everything you could want to know is here — and you can take that to the bank.

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The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Americord, a leader in the advancement of cord blood and tissue banking.

If you’re having a kid, you’ll have to decide at some point (preferably before the missus goes into labor) if you want to bank the kid’s cord blood. So, it would be good to have a little knowledge on the subject beyond your mother-in-law’s assurance that planting it under the old oak tree out back will bring Junior good fortune.

For the uninitiated, “cord blood” refers to blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta after childbirth. It’s chock full of stem cells, which you might be more familiar with as the little miracle workers that contain your entire genetic code and can repair all kinds of damage. Their rejuvenating capabilities diminish as you age, but stem cells from cord blood are easily saved and banked to be used later in life. Statistically speaking, you, your kid, their sibling, or someone you’ve never met will be very happy about that — it’s estimated that more than one-in-200 Americans will receive a stem cell transplant of some kind during a 70-year lifetime.

Plenty of really smart people believe cord blood stem cells will be the basis of personalized medicine for the next generation, treating everything from cerebral palsy to leukemia to alzheimer’s. Here’s a look at how far cord blood banking has come, to help inform your decision — and offer an alternative to grandma’s traditions.

1983: Cord Blood Is Born

The concept of cord blood as an alternative source of stem cells for transplant is first proposed by Dr. Hal Broxmeyer and colleagues.

1985: Stem Cells Discovered In Cord Blood

Transplantable stem cells are discovered in human cord blood. Dr. Broxmeyer wants to drop the mic, but it’s 1985 and that phrase hasn’t been invented yet.

1988: The First Cord Blood Transplant

The first successful cord blood transplant to regenerate blood and immune cells is performed on a 5-year-old with the blood disorder Fanconi Anemia; the donor is his newborn sister. Today, he’s 33, married, and a father, and you can probably guess whether he opted to bank his kid’s cord blood.

1992: The First Public Cord Blood Bank Opens

With funding from the National Institutes of Health, the New York Blood Center establishes the first public cord blood bank, which today holds 60,000 donations.

1993: The First Successful Cord Blood Transplant

Not-even-2-year-old Mitch Santa becomes the first person to receive a successful cord blood transplant from an unrelated donor, which cures him of acute leukemia. His anonymous donor’s cord blood came from the not-even-one-year-old NY Blood Center bank. Way to earn that NIH cash!

1995: The First Successful Transplant For Adult Leukemia

The first successful cord blood transplant for an adult leukemia patient is performed, presumably on the assumption that, “If a 2-year-old can do it, how hard can it be?”

1997: The First Expanded Cord Blood Transplant

A 46-year-old man with chronic myelogenous leukemia becomes the first adult to receive an “expanded” cord blood transplant, which means the cells were grown in a lab before infusion. If that seems unnecessary, what with the whole establishment of a national bank, remember, this was right after Dolly the Sheep — people were way into growing stuff in labs.

1998: The National Marrow Donor Program Launches Cord Blood Program

Ten years after the first transplant, the National Marrow Donor Program launches a cord blood program, and the first transplant to cure sickle cell anemia is performed. That’s what the Silicon Valley cool kids call “hockey stick growth.”

2000: Preimplantation Genetic Testing Is First Used

The first transplant is performed using preimplantation genetic testing, a process that ensures similarity in genetics to reach a perfect tissue match. Cool fact, however: cord blood doesn’t require a perfect match, so they were basically showing off.

2004: Congress Funds A National Cord Blood Program

Cord blood banking enters the national dialogue as the Health & Human Services Appropriations Act provides funds to create a National Cord Blood Program, and Illinois legislation mandates birthing women be given the option to donate their baby’s cord blood to a public bank for free. Meanwhile, one child receives a transplant of their own cord blood to cure a malignant brain tumor, and another receives their own cord blood in a transplant for acute leukemia. Doctors everywhere scream, “Yeah!” because all that is awesome and also because Lil’ John was up in everyone’s business in 2004.

2005: A National Inventory of Cord Blood Samples Is Created

Congress passes the Stem Cell Research & Therapeutic Act to create a national inventory of 150,000 high quality cord blood samples. Representative Chris Smith calls umbilical cord blood stem cells “One of the best kept secrets in America today.” Of course, Lance Armstrong won the Tour De France that year, so take Chris Smith’s rankings of national secrets with a grain of salt.

2007: Dubya Issues An Executive Order

Thanks to a successful sibling transplant, doctors determine cord blood transplants can teach the body to produce missing skin proteins. President George W. Bush issues an Executive Order calling for research into alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells, including cord blood. So, cord blood managed to make Dubya look good at the end of a pretty bumpy term — the stuff really is magic!

2008: Americord, A Private Cord Blood Bank, Launches

The private cord blood bank, Americord, opens, just in time for a published analysis of U.S. stem cell transplant statistics, which reveals one-in-200 Americans will receive a stem cell transplant of some kind of a 70-year lifetime. Well played, Americord.

2009: 20,000 Cord Blood Transplants Worldwide

The total number of cord blood transplants performed around the world surpasses 20,000. So, it’s getting trendy.

2012: Clinical Trials Show 3 Major Cord Blood Achievements

Clinical trials show 3 major cord blood achievements: It’s proven to be an effective treatment for cerebral palsy, used in treatments for autistic children, and helps one patient rebuild their immune system in just 2 weeks. Researchers also discover a way to expand cord blood stem cells 30-fold. The benefits are literally multiplying.

2013: The World Cord Blood Inventory Reaches 3 Million

Twenty-five years after the first cord blood transplant, a clinical trial attempts to use a child’s own cord blood to prevent type 1 diabetes; the first cord blood transplant for a child with both leukemia and HIV is also performed. More than 30,000 total transplants have been performed worldwide; the world cord blood inventory in storage reaches 650,000 in public banks and 2.5 million in family banks.

2014: Americord Launches Cord Blood 2.0

Americord launches Cord Blood 2.0, a new cord blood banking system that can collect and preserve up to twice as many stem cells as traditional cord blood collections.

2016: More Than 80 Diseases Are Being Treated With Cord Blood

More than 80 different diseases are currently being treated with cord blood stem cells and 350+ clinical trials are in process for treatments of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Americord announces record cord blood collection volumes and record yields of total nucleated cell (TNC) counts through Cord Blood 2.0. This is the same year you ingest record amounts of information about cord blood banking, officially surpassing your mother-in-law as the family’s subject matter expert.

The Future

If bespoke for cures for all these horrible diseases don’t get your juices flowing, how about sharing cake with your great-great-great grandchildren at your 200th birthday party? Because that’s where all this might be headed. Your kid’s stem cells, banked at birth, could one day be replicated and reintroduced to keep them feeling young and vigorous long after their ancestors resigned themselves to the shuffleboard court. Or doctors might one day be able to isolate stem cells regardless of age and repair people’s DNA to fix abnormalities and essentially reboot their genetic software. One future outcome is predictable — armed with all this new knowledge, you’ll safely avoid growing a placenta tree in your backyard.

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