December 22, 2014

Did you know that cord blood stem cells are a potential tool in reducing the prevalence of cardiovascular disease-related deaths in the United States? Researchers in this field of medicine recognize the regenerative properties contained in cord blood and are putting it to task to prove its value for future heart disease treatment options.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, according to the CDC1, who say the disease is responsible for the deaths of 1 in every 4 Americans annually – and it has been this way for almost a century. People of all ages and backgrounds are at risk for cardiovascular disease, which includes hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary heart disease, stroke and congestive heart failure. Many risk factors attribute to a person’s likelihood of developing a heart disease. Some are unavoidable, such as aging, but by reducing preventable risk factors, such as physical inactivity, obesity and type-2 diabetes, a person’s chances of developing heart disease are reduced. Damage from heart disease is caused when heart tissue is deprived of oxygen, which kills cardiac muscle cells. This causes scar tissue to form, excessive blood flow overload and pressure capacity. Viable cardiac cells, in an attempt to sustain this increased cardiac output, eventually will fail under this pressure, leading to heart failure, and potentially death. Prompt and rapid treatment to repair or regenerate the damaged heart muscle tissue is key to recovery for the patient. 

The use of stem cells, including those harvested from umbilical cord blood, for cardiac repair is a new and active area of research, utilizing stem cells as a potential source for regenerating damaged heart tissue. Cord blood especially is being studied for this new strategy, not only because of its proven regenerative qualities, but also because of timeliness. Banked cord blood is available almost immediately and is always a genetic match to the patient who stored it, meaning no time is wasted looking for a matching donor or unnecessary testing. 

Researchers have successfully explored the use of stem cells to treat heart failure in animal trials using mice and rats, as well as larger animals including pigs. The animals in these trials showed improved heart function following a stem cell transplant. Human clinical trials are the next step. It can be noted that stem cell transplants in human hearts have occurred and been studied, but only in small numbers. It usually involves a patient voluntary opting-in to the experimental treatment prior to undergoing open-heart surgery. These isolated experiments are showing promise too! A number of those who have received a stem cell treatment, whether introduced intravenously into the blood or injected directly into the damaged heart tissue during surgery, have shown improved cardiac function as well as the formation of new, healthy capillaries.

Is it likely that cord blood stem cell transplants could help reduce the future encumbrance of heart disease? Current findings are definitely indicating that it is a possibility. Of course, research on a much larger, controlled scale is necessary to evaluate the safety and efficacy of this approach. However, the preliminary findings of these initial studies substantiate that stem cells will be a valuable asset in the future treatment of damaged heart tissue.

Cord blood banking is a priceless investment you can make in the future health of your child. Whether the stem cell unit is needed when your child is young, or even later in life, you can know you have taken steps to provide them the best possible chance, at a healthy future.

  • America's Heart Disease Burden, statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Found online http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. 
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