Stem cells from the cord blood are currently being used to treat many medical conditions. And thousands of cord blood transplant have been performed worldwide since the first transplant in 1988 to treat a young boy with Fanconi Anaemia using his newborn sibling’s umbilical cord blood. If you are expecting a new baby and would like to look further into how storing the umbilical cord blood with a private cord blood bank could help protect your child’s health in the future, here are some umbilical cord blood facts you should know.
1) Preserving Your Child’s Cord Blood Stem Cells is Painless and Risk-free
Preserving your child’s cord blood stem cells, also known as cord blood banking, is risk-free and does not cause any pain to the mother or child. After the baby is delivered, the umbilical cord detaches from the wall of the placenta. After being clamped, the cord is cut and normally the umbilical cord would be discarded. Instead of discarding the cord, the cord blood is extracted, processed in a laboratory, and cryogenically preserved.
Stem cells from the cord blood are free of any ethical controversies — it is simply collecting the biological material that was previously discarded as medical waste.
Watch Video: Simple Steps to Cord Blood Banking
2) Stem Cells from the Cord Blood Have a Proven Track Record
Another important umbilical cord blood fact is that many doctors have been using the stem cells from umbilical cord blood to treat patients for more than 30 years. Currently, there have been more than 40,000 cord blood transplants performed worldwide.
Stem cells from the cord blood are already used to treat more than 85 different illnesses including various blood disorders, cancers, immune disorders, and metabolic disorders.
Some of the illnesses successfully treated with umbilical cord stem cells include:
- Fanconi Anemia
- Pure Red Cell Aplasia
- Acute Myelofibrosis
- Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)
- Ewing Sarcoma
- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Congenital Neutropenia
- Congenital Erythropoietic Porphyria (Gunther Disease)
- Hunter Syndrome (MPS-II) and Hurler Syndrome (MPS-IH)
- Adenosine Deaminase Deficiency (SCID)
3) Stem Cells from Umbilical Cord Blood are More Likely to be a Match
To assess the compatibility of stem cells between donor and recipient, an HLA matching test is performed. The test looks at the Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) present on cells. In simple terms, HLA is a protein that helps cells understand if a new cell entering the body should be accepted or rejected.
For a bone marrow stem cell transplant to be considered viable, at least 5 out of 6 HLAs tested must match. Because umbilical cord stem cells are “young cells” that are less likely to be rejected by a host’s immune system, only 4 out of 6 HLA markers must be a match. It is one of the key advantages for using umbilical cord blood stem cells over other types of stem cells.
4) Umbilical Cord Stem Cells are Flexible
Some of the stem cells from umbilical cord blood are multipotent. That means they have the ability to transform into a number of different kinds of cells. Scientists have discovered ways of ‘prompting’ cord blood stem cells to turn into neural cells, cardiac cells, skin cells and many more types of cells. That is why scientists believe cord blood stem cells have a wide range of potential uses.
5) Umbilical Cord Blood is a Very Diverse Source of Stem Cells
Umbilical cord blood contains a wide variety of different stem cells including (Taro Matsumoto, 2009):
- Haematological Stem Cells (HSC)
- Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs)
- Very Small Embryonic-Like Stem Cells (VSELs)
- Unrestricted Somatic Stem Cells (USSCs)
- Endothelial-Colony Forming Cells (ECFCs)
- Neuronal Progenitor Cells
- Multilineage Progenitor Cells (ML-PCs)
Researchers are only just beginning to understand the medicinal capabilities of many of these stem cells.
6) Your Child’s Stem Cells are Extremely Valuable for Your Child
The stem cells from umbilical cord blood are an autologous match with child they came from. That means there is no risk of rejection after being transplanted, unlike stem cells that come from another donor. That makes you child’s own cord blood stem cells particularly valuable. Umbilical cord stem cells have a 25% chance of being a match to the siblings and a chance matching the parents of the child, too. Learn the importance of saving your child’s umbilical cord blood stem cells here
7) There May be Situations Where You Need Stem Cells from a Sibling
In most cases it is a good thing for a person to have their autologous stem cells preserved. However, if a person is suffering from a genetic condition, their own stem cells may carry the same genetic flaw. That is when they need stem cells from a close relative like a parent or sibling. Parents often save the cord blood stem cells from all their children for this reason.
8) Regenerative Medicine is the Next Big Breakthrough
Regeneration medicine deals with “process of replacing, engineering or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function”. Some of the stem cells from umbilical cord blood are valuable in this field of regenerative medicine because they can be harnessed to create new cells and regenerate tissue.
There are currently more than a dozen clinical trials underway in the field of regenerative medicine, looking at using stem cells from the cord blood to treat medical conditions including: heart disease, blindness, spinal cord injuries, autism, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s disease and hearing loss. Researchers believe they may be able to use stem cells to regrow tissue and repair organs.
9) There are Different Options to Cord Blood Banking
Most current medical treatments use haematological stem cells (HSCs). Umbilical cord blood was often refined to maximise the number of viable HSCs and make it easier to access HSCs immediately if they were needed. A process called volume reduction was used to remove other material from the samples.
Now that more parents are learning about the potential of regenerative medicine, they prefer to preserve as many stem cells as possible. This is achieved through “whole cord blood storage” where the umbilical cord blood is preserved close to its natural state. Umbilical cord tissue can also be preserved, to maximise the amount of stem cells available.
Watch: Cord Blood Banking Options for Expecting Parents
10) Cord Blood Stem Cells are Tougher!
There are fewer side effects when using umbilical cord blood stem cells as opposed to bone marrow stem cells. They are also more resistant to infection and require fewer transplant drugs than stem cells from other sources.
Taro Matsumoto, H. (2009). Non-Hematopoietic Stem Cells in Umbilical Cord Blood. International Journal Of Stem Cells, 2(2), 83. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov