Benefits of Umbilical Cord Stem Cells
Umbilical cord blood contains incredibly valuable stem cells that science foresees as the future of medicine and cord blood is a medically and ethically acceptable source of stem cells.
So What Makes These Stem Cells So Special?
No other cell in our bodies has this ability.
They have the unique and remarkable ability to:
• Divide and multiply and
• Change and mature into other types of cells.
With these unique regenerative abilities they work as a sort of internal repair system, but what exactly triggers your stem cells to become specialized is still being researched.
The stem cells that specifically form your blood and immune cells are known as hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and are ultimately responsible for the constant renewal of your blood cells.
The classic source of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) is bone marrow.
But in the late 1980s and early 1990s, physicians began to recognize that blood from the human umbilical cord and placenta was a rich source of HSCs.
Umbilical cord blood was first used in transplant medicine in 1988, as an alternative source to bone marrow.
Since the first successful umbilical cord blood transplants in children with Fanconi anemia, the collection and therapeutic use of these cells has grown rapidly.
Hematopoietic stem cells are now routinely used as a therapy in transplants to treat patients with cancers and other disorders of the blood and immune systems.
Here is a list of current treatable diseases: Parents Guide
Once a disease process has been identified and a stem cell transplant is considered as a possible therapy, an appropriate donor must be identified to get the best possible match (to give the least complications).
There are two basic types of transplants – autologous and allogeneic.
1. In an autologous transplant, the patient’s own stem cells are used.
2. In an allogeneic transplant, the stem cells are donated by someone other than the patient. The stem cells can come from a sibling (brother/sister), a parent, or from an unrelated donor.
Why Would Someone Need A Stem Cell Transplant?
A hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) involves the intravenous (IV) infusion of autologous or allogeneic stem cells to re-establish hematopoietic function in patients whose bone marrow or immune system is damaged or defective.
In plain language, it is given similar to a blood transfusion and does not involve any surgical procedure.
A Stem Cell Transplantation may be needed if:
1. Your body cannot make the blood cells it needs because your bone marrow or stem cells have failed.
2. Your bone marrow or blood cells have become diseased and need to be replaced.
3. You have a disease that has been treated with high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment, which destroys both cancerous and stem cells at the same time.
For transplants, stem cells can be collected from:
• The blood (the stem cells are harvested from donated blood. The stem cells are separated and collected and the rest of the blood is returned to the donor),
• Bone marrow (stem cells are collected from the donor’s hip bone through a surgical procedure) or
• Umbilical cord blood (stem cells are collected immediately after a child is born and the placenta delivered).
While all three types can replenish a patient’s blood and bone marrow cells, there are advantages and disadvantages to each, so careful consideration is given as to which is more suitable.
Stem cell transplants are reserved for patients with life-threatening diseases only, i.e. save the lives of patients who have no other options.
The stem cell source used for a given transplant depends upon:
• the underlying disease,
• the type of transplant ( allogeneic or autologous),
• and size of the patient.
The purpose of a stem cell transplant is to either cure, or induce a long-term remission of a disease.
Bone marrow, which has been the standard option for stem-cell transplants, must be extracted from a donor in an invasive procedure and within a critical period.
Unfortunately approximately 50% of patients requiring a bone-marrow transplant will not find a suitable donor (within this critical period).
Whereas cord blood can be collected with no risk to the mother or child and can be frozen and stored for many years, ready for use at any time.
Added bonus: Cord blood does NOT need to be as exact a match as bone marrow.
A major advantage of using cord blood as a source of stem cells is that the severity of graft-versus-host disease, a major complication of bone marrow transplantation, appears to be less, even in mis-matched transplants.
So the benefits of using cord blood stem cells are:
• Ease and safety of collection (from a source of stem cells that would otherwise be discarded),
• Instant accessibility from a bank,
• A lower risk of viral contamination,
• A reduced risk of severe graft-versus-host disease,
• And the availability of more appropriate distribution of racial groups (compared with unrelated marrow donor banks).
Your Choices If You Decide To Store Your Baby’s Cord Blood:
• Donate to a public bank, and support patients who are searching for an unrelated Allogeneic donor or
• Save cord blood in a family bank and reserve the options that your baby can use his/her own stem cells for an Autologous treatment or an immediate relative (sibling or parents) can use the stem cells for an Allogeneic treatment.
Why Does Science Foresee Cord Blood Stem Cells as The Future?
Researchers are looking at broader applications for cord blood stem cells in:
• Autoimmune diseases, in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. These could include Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel diseases.
• Treating cerebral palsy
• Treating congenital heart defects and damaged heart muscle -could stem cells generate new heart tissue and repair the damage?
• Treating vascular disease – Stem cells have been shown to grow new blood vessels around narrowed or damaged arteries in the limbs and restore impaired blood flow.
• Treating nerve and brain damage such as strokes, spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injury
• Treating Parkinson’s disease,
• Treating Alzheimer’s disease,
• Treating Osteoporosis
• Getting a better understanding of how diseases occur by watching how stem cells mature into cells in bones, heart muscle, nerves, and other organs and tissue.
• Having the ability to generate healthy cells to replace diseased cells (regenerative medicine). If stem cells can be guided into becoming specific cells they can be used to regenerate and repair diseased or damaged tissues in people, e.g. severe burns. (Regenerative medicine focuses on curing diseases/conditions rather than just treating them)
• Testing new drugs for safety and effectiveness. Before using new drugs in people, some types of stem cells may be useful to test the safety and quality of trial drugs.
Regenerative medicine is a game-changing area of medicine with the potential to fully heal damaged tissues and organs, offering solutions and hope for people who have conditions that today are beyond repair.
Source: Mayo Clinic
The moment of birth not only means the delivery of a new life into the world but also presents a onetime opportunity to save another person’s life or have a direct impact on the future of medical research through the donation of umbilical cord blood stem cells.
The use of umbilical cord blood stem cells as a therapeutic option against disease is relatively new, and there remain hurdles to overcome in the use of this technology.
The potential, however, particularly with new research indicating that umbilical stem cells may be used to fight several types of diseases besides those affecting the blood, provides hope to countless patients and their families.
Is cord blood storage worth it? That is for you to decide.