October 31, 2014

Hematopoietic stem cells are blood cells from which all other types of blood cells originate. These hematopoietic cells have proven effective in transplants for the treatment of cancers and many other hematological malignancies and diseases, which can be diagnosed in a person of any age, young or old. These cells are commonly found in bone marrow and peripheral blood, but in recent years human umbilical cord blood has emerged as a rich and often preferred source of hematopoietic stem cell support. As expectant parents are becoming more and more educated on the benefits contained in these special tiny cells, an increasing number of families are choosing to preserve their newborn’s cord blood and store it in a cord blood bank for future use.

If parents have chosen cord blood banking for their child, they have provided him or her many advantages should a stem cell transplant be needed in the future to treat any of the wide number of diseases cord blood has been proven effective in treating, from a number of cancers, immunodeficiency diseases, blood disorders and more. 

By choosing cord blood as the source for the stem cells used in a transplant, the patient will have a shorter waiting period for treatment because of the almost immediate availability of his or her frozen cord blood unit. Also, there will be no need to seek out a matching donor because your child’s own cord blood is always an exact genetic match for him or her. That time saved could mean the difference in saving your child’s life, depending on the situation and severity of disease. Siblings can also benefit as they are more likely to be a match or at least partial match for one another. Both parents are also potential matches to their child’s umbilical cord blood.

Stem cell transplants using cord blood also mean that the invasive procedures required for bone marrow donors is avoided. Since the cord blood stem cells are already stored in a private cord blood bank and available whenever it is needed, there is no need for a donor to undergo the sometimes-painful process involved in bone marrow donation and harvesting. 

Additionally, cord blood transplants are showing increasing promise for patients long-term. Those who have had a cord blood transplant have demonstrated an increased long-term survival rate following treatment, as compared to those who undergo an unrelated allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant derived from other sources. This is mostly due to the fact that cord blood stem cells are a “younger” and more adaptive type of stem cells that is more likely to be accepted and rapidly engraft upon transplantation. This leads to reduced relapse rates, as well as fewer instances and/or severity of Graft vs. Host Disease, which is when the body rejects the transplant.

Current breakthroughs in the study of cord blood stem cells are cause for excitement for those involved as well as those who could potentially benefit from their discoveries. New advances in the field revolve around the expansion of safer techniques to increase the cells’ homing ability to lead them to where they are needed, improved engraftment rates, and immune reconstitution following a cord blood transplant. There is still much to be discovered and the future of cord blood stem cells is exciting and promising for both families and researchers in the field of medicine.

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