Posted: Jun 21, 2012
It may be hard to imagine a world before family cord blood banking, especially if you’ve decided to bank your child’s cord blood stem cells with CBR. But it was twenty years ago when David Harris, Ph.D. and professor of immunology at the University of Arizona, recognized the potential in newborn stem cells. When his son was born on June 24, 1992, he collected the very first cord blood stem cell sample in the world to be stored specifically for family use. And, as they say, the rest is history. Read below for Dr. Harris’ thoughts on the beginnings of cord blood banking and where he sees the industry is headed in the future.
CBR: How did you first learn of cord blood stem cells, and what convinced you they were worth saving?
Harris: I had been in the field of stem cells and bone marrow transplants for a number of years, and met a colleague from Memorial Sloan-Kettering who had been working with cord blood. We decided to work together, and in the late 1980s we determined that stem cells could be used in many cases instead of bone marrow for transplant. What convinced me that cord blood stem cells were valuable really came out of three or four years of research.
CBR: When you explained cord blood banking to colleagues and fellow researchers, or even your friends and family, what were their initial reactions?
Harris: At the time, it was apparent that cord blood was a valuable source of stems cells and was worthwhile to save, especially for people who couldn’t find a bone marrow match. But the question was, “Would individual families be willing to pay to have their cord blood stored when there wasn’t an immediate need for it?” Pretty quickly we found out the answer was yes. We were surprised by how much demand there was for family cord blood banking.
CBR: Can you explain, as a parent and expert in the industry, why is it so important for other parents to collect and store their newborn’s cord blood with CBR? What does CBR offer that other banks may not?
Harris: Not only did CBR grow to become the largest cord blood bank in the world, the company has continued to refine its processing and storage methods for the utmost quality, every time. We process every sample as if it was as precious to me as that first sample from my son. Parents need to make sure that if you or your child needs a transplant in the future, then the sample has been taken care of well. CBR is financially stable, which should give you peace of mind that the company—and your sample—will be here should you need it.
CBR: You’ve been a part of the field from the very beginning. What would you consider to be some of the most interesting developments in cord blood banking? What are its biggest challenges?
Harris: The use of cord blood in regenerative medicine over the past 7-8 years has been the most significant advancement. In my opinion, it is going to be the area where we’ll see the most use of cord blood stem cell samples in the future.
It’s also exciting to see cord blood being used in transplants for adults who normally wouldn’t qualify for a bone marrow transplant.
Some people think that cord blood stem cells are not widely used in transplants, but actually there have been more than 25,000 transplants using cord blood stem cells in the last twenty years. People are still waiting for more therapies to come along before being convinced of the tremendous value of banking cord blood, but don’t realize that thousands of individuals are using cord blood right now. I think there’s still quite a bit of education to do.
CBR: Your son is now 20 years old. What does he think about cord blood banking?
Harris: He just finished his second year of college. So, in addition to investing in his future health, I’m deeply invested in his academic training. He thinks it’s neat that he was the first one to have access to his own cord blood and realizes that cord blood banking is important. But, like many college students today, he is focused on enjoying life today. He still needs his parents to help him plan for the future.
CBR: What is your role as CBR’s Scientific Director?
Harris: I act as the go-between for the company and the science community and academics. When there is something new, cord tissue for example, we figured out the best way to process it. We think to ourselves, “What is the best way to do that?” Many times we’re evaluating what others in the field are doing and comparing outcomes.
I think it’s important to continue educating people. The value of cord blood and cord tissue stem cells is something that new groups of expectant parents need to keep hearing about. It’s also a new set of doctors coming out of school who we aim to educate. Parents only get this shot once for their child and we hope they can make an informed choice.