How to: Harvest Stem Cells from Cord Blood
August 31, 2011 |  by Dale Keiger

Blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta of a newborn contains a wealth of stem cells that can be used in transplant surgery; to treat leukemia, various other cancers, and blood disorders; and in research on regenerative medicine. But the present method of drawing blood from the umbilical cord and the placenta—basically inserting a needle into the cord’s vasculature and using gravity to feed a collection bag—fails to draw out enough stem cells to be medically useful 60 percent of the time.

Five graduate students in Johns Hopkins’ Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design believe they’ve invented a method that will significantly increase the number of stem cells that can be drawn out of the cord blood. They have secured a provisional patent on their new technology and founded a company, TheraCord LLC, to explore the commercial possibilities. One of the inventors, Christopher Chiang, explains how their new system works.

After the birth of a child, collect the umbilical cord and the placenta.  Employing a single-use kit now under development, connect the umbilical vein and arteries, via tubing, to a collection bag and a pumplike device.
Pump special solution into the umbilical cord and the placenta vascular system to flush out stem cells. Early tests of the new procedure have yielded up to 50 percent more stem cells. Send stem cell–rich blood to a cord blood bank, where it will be cryogenically preserved for later use.

Illustration by Wesley Bedrosian