Heparin is an anticoagulant derived from animal mucosal tissues (typically from pigs) used to decrease the clotting ability of blood, preventing potentially harmful clots from forming in blood vessels. As for what is heparin used for, there are numerous treatment uses, including preventing clots during open heart surgery and kidney dialysis.
Is heparin used for anything else?
Although heparin is most often used in patients with blood clot-related health concerns, you may be familiar with heparin for another reason, as some cord blood banks use the anticoagulant in their collection bags.
The cells in the blood drawn from the umbilical cord can remain healthy and alive in transit to a lab facility for processing, but without an anticoagulant in the collection bag, the blood will clot, which may make processing impossible.
Are there risks involved with heparin uses?
Use of heparin to treat patients is largely considered a safe practice, but serious side effects can occur, including heavy bleeding and breathing issues. While rare side effects may be expected in a complicated treatment regimen, heparin also has a history of contamination and recall that is a cause for greater concern.
The most infamous case is the 2008 recall, when hundreds of people had adverse reactions, some fatal, because of poor quality control during manufacturing that led to contaminated products being shipped around the world.
But, that’s not the only heparin recall: despite tighter FDA regulation of quality control, there were further heparin product recalls in 2010 and 2015.
Of course, heparin that is unsafe to use in a living patient also poses a substantial risk in safe cord blood collection, processing, storage, and later use. With heparin being derived from animal tissues, the numbers of potential impurities are relatively large when compared with a wholly synthetic, laboratory-made compound.
Heparin can contain bacteria or viruses from the animal that can contaminate patients or cord blood, which prevents storage, forcing a family to miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bank their newborn’s stem cells. While there are, now, established guidelines to detect and identify impurities, the numerous incidents in the last few years incentivize finding other anticoagulants.
Are there better alternatives for cord blood banking?
Fortunately, there is another safer anticoagulant that is commonly used by cord blood banks — and this one is FDA-approved for that purpose. Citrate phosphate dextrose (or CPD) also prevents cord blood from clotting in the collection bag on the way to the lab for processing, without the risk of contamination or quality control associated with heparin.
CPD has a perfect safety record — just one batch of a CPD product was recalled in 2013, due to a labeling issue, with no potential for safety or contamination risk, as the CPD itself was not defective.
Not only is CPD safer, but it can also be more effective. According to leading hematologists, when heparin is used as an anticoagulant, blood can start to clot at 12 hours. This is typically long before processing can occur, increasing the odds of a poorly stored stem cell count, and limiting treatment opportunities.
These are all reasons why Americord uses CPD. It’s the safer, more consistently-effective method. We’re committed to helping people live healthier, longer lives, and that means seeking out the best practices to maximize our client’s investment in their newborn’s future.