November 3, 2014
Stem cells are a valuable medical tool in the treatment of diseases, injuries and inherited disorders. But what are stem cells? They are a type of unspecialized cells in the body that have the incredible potential to develop into a number of different cells, as needed by the body. The cells are capable of almost limitless self-renewal and also possess the ability to be prompted into precise bone-, organ- or tissue-specific cells. They can serve as the body’s self-repair system, effectively replacing diseased or damaged cells when introduced to the affected area. With their distinctive regenerative and reparative qualities, they have the power to treat countless diseases, and the exciting thing is that scientists feel they’ve just barely tapped into their vast potential – there is still much to be discovered about these incredible cells!
Where are these cells found in the body? Stem cells are in many places throughout the body but mostly in too miniscule numbers to be harvested. Two places there stem cells can be found in abundance, however, are in the bone marrow and in umbilical cord blood.
Both of these have proven effective in stem cell transplants, and each has its own unique benefits for use. When it comes to umbilical cord stem cells, the opportunity to collect them is limited – once in a lifetime actually. They can only be collected in the few, short minutes following birth, after the cutting of the umbilical cord.
A major benefit to harvesting umbilical cord blood is that, the child whose blood is stored will always have an exact genetically matching stem cells, should they ever need them in the treatment of diseases. That child’s full siblings will also be at an advantage (should they ever need an allogeneic stem cell transplant), if they have a hereditary disease that would show up in any of their own stem cells. Siblings have a 1-in-4 chance of being an exact match for each other.
Umbilical cord blood is also valuable because it is easier to be matched up to a patient needing a transplant, due to the fact that cord blood does not have to be an exact HLA match, the way bone marrow stem cells must. Cord blood stem cells also have been proven to have fewer instances of Graft vs. Host Disease following transplants because the cells are “younger” and therefore more likely to take on the correct form and not be rejected by the body.
Likewise, timeliness makes cord blood stand out above other sources of stem cells. It takes an average of 15 days between the times of the initial testing to the time of transplant in the case of a cord blood transplant. With bone marrow, that time could stretch out over months while a matching donor is sought. Even then, additional tests must be performed on both the patient and the donor to ensure a successful transplant.
Cord blood banking for your child is a wise decision and an investment in your child’s future health. It is a once-in-a-lifetime gift that you can provide, and one that could potentially be a lifesaving factor someday.