Modern Indications for Utilization of Stored Umbilical Cord Blood


Since the first umbilical cord blood transplantation in 1988 for Fanconi’s anemia, umbilical cord blood has become a safe and dependable alternative donor graft source for use in allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation. Approximately 10% of alternative donor grafts for adult hematopoietic cell transplants are umbilical cord blood.


Umbilical cord blood has many advantages including rapid availability, less graft-versus-host disease, low CMV transmission, and tolerance to human leukocyte antigen (HLA) disparities. Umbilical cord blood cells can restore hematopoiesis after conditioning regimens for malignant and non-malignant disorders as well. Moreover, umbilical cord blood contains non-hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells that are capable of differentiating into a variety of different cell types and tissue lineages. This plasticity allows umbilical cord blood to be used for novel regenerative medicine research for a wide variety of indications such as neurodegenerative diseases, cerebral palsy, diabetes and its complications, and congenital heart conditions. With increased usage of umbilical cord blood for allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation and regenerative medicine, both public and private cord blood banks provide options for the storage of umbilical cord blood for use in the general population (public banks) or for family-directed donation (private banks).


The most common use of umbilical cord blood is as a graft source after conditioning for allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplant restoring hematopoiesis (Table 1). A majority of umbilical cord blood used for the hematopoietic cell transplant indication is donated anonymously through a public bank or, less often, privately through a directed family donation. Even though the HLA matching is less stringent with umbilical cord blood than adult matched unrelated donors, the risk of graft-versus-host disease is less. However, the risk of engraftment failure due to low cell dose is greater using umbilical cord blood. Ongoing research is evaluating ways to improve engraftment in patients receiving umbilical cord blood transplant such as ex-vivo expansion strategies, accessory cell populations, improved cord blood homing, and ex-vivo expression/engineering of cord blood immune cells.

Regenerative Medicine

Umbilical cord blood-based therapies are now being used increasingly for novel applications in non-hematopoietic diseases as a form of cellular regenerative therapy or immune modulation (Table 2). These indications use autologous banking and are still considered investigational and should only be performed on a clinical trial. Families who are interested in participating in a clinical trial should visit

Role of Private Cord Blood Banks

Most of the umbilical cord blood units used for hematopoietic cell transplantation in children and adults are obtained through public umbilical cord blood banks. Rarely do recipients of umbilical cord blood transplants have family members who have donated umbilical cord blood to a private bank. In a review performed by the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR), a total of 244 patients received directed-family umbilical cord blood transplants from 73 centers in a 12-year time frame from 2000 to 2012. These transplants were performed most commonly for acute leukemia (37%), hemoglobinopathies (29%), Fanconi’s anemia (7%), and immune or metabolic disorders (18%). More than 500 patients transplanted with related umbilical cord blood units have been reported to the Eurocord registry with a 4-year overall survival of 91% for patients with nonmalignant diseases and 56% for patients with malignant diseases. Main hematologic indications for treatment in children were leukemia, hemoglobinopathies or inherited hematologic, immunological or metabolic disorders (Table 3).


Umbilical cord blood can reconstitute hematopoiesis after conditioning chemotherapy for malignant and non-malignant disorders. The availability of umbilical cord blood through public and private banks allows patients who would not otherwise have a graft source proceed to a potentially life-saving hematopoietic cell transplant. Since umbilical cord blood can regenerate tissue and modulate the immune system, umbilical cord blood has the potential to be used in the treatment of many other non-hematologic conditions.

 Table 1

Diseases Treated by Umbilical Cord Blood Transplantation Using

Either Sibling or Unrelated Donors

Malignant Diseases Non-Malignant Diseases
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia (AML)

Juvenile Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (JMML)

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)

Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL)


Myelodysplastic Syndrome


Multiple myeloma

Solid Tumors

Fanconi Anemia

Idiopathic Aplastic Anemia


Sickle Cell Anemia

Amegakaryocytic Thrombocytopenia

Kostman Syndrome

Blackfan-Diamond Syndrome

Dyskeratosis Congenita

Severe Combined Immunodeficiency

X-linked Lymphoproliferative Syndrome

Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome

Krabbe’s Disease

Hurler Syndrome

Sanfilippo Syndrome

Hunter Syndrome

Gunther Disease


Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy

Metachomatic Leukodystrophy


Tay-Sachs Disease

Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome

Sandhoff Disease

Other rare metabolic and primary               Immunodeficiency diseases

Modified from Cairo et al, BBMT, 2008

Table 2

Novel Uses of Umbilical Cord Blood Use in Regenerative Medicine

Diseases Being Studied
Spinal Cord Injury Type I Diabetes Mellitus
Infant Lung Disease Type II Diabetes Mellitus
Stroke Thromboangiitis Obliterans
Neurodegenerative Disorders Critical Limb Ischemia
Cerebral Palsy Traumatic Brain Injury
Autism Congenital Heart Defect
Preterm Neonates Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome
Developmental Delay Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Skin—Wound/Burn Liver Cirrhosis
Epidermolysis Bullosa Viral Hepatitis
Rheumatoid Arthritis Ulcerative Colitis / Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
Childhood Hearing Loss Hydrocephalus
Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy In-Utero Brain Injury / Stroke


Table 3

Related Umbilical Cord Blood Transplants Reported to EUROCORD


Malignant Diseases Non-Malignant Diseases
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Metabolic Diseases
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia Fanconi Anemia
Myelodysplastic Syndrome Thalassemia
Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia Sickle Cell Disease
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Subacute Combined Immunodeficiency
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Other
Solid Tumors

 By Mitchell S. Cairo, MD, and Tamila L. Kindwall-Keller, DO, MS






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