February 16, 2015

A phrase many parents will see repeated as they learn more about umbilical cord blood banking is, “stem cell research.” But what is stem cell research and why is it so intertwined with cord blood banking? Some would argue that stem cell research is one of the most intriguing and fastest advancing areas of study in modern-day science, medicine and discovery. The innovations made in stem cell research labs around the world, are resulting in vast forward movement in the field of medical treatment. The groundbreaking findings of those researchers are changing lives today and have the potential to ensure the future health of the world’s population. Their research is what makes cord blood banking so valuable to families and why so many are opting to take advantage of the opportunity to preserve their child’s stem cells.

But how are they doing this? First, it’s important to understand what stem cells are and what they can do. Stem cells are the basic building blocks of the body from which every cell initially formed. These cells have two distinct characteristics that set them apart from other cells. First, they have the amazing ability to self-renew, developing into any type of cell and acting as a “self-repair” system for the body to replace or repair those that are damaged or diseased. This process is called differentiation. Second, they can become a specific type of cell. When a stem cell divides, it can be induced into forming a more specialized cell, such as a muscle, tissue, blood or nerve cell.

Because stem cells possess these incredible capabilities, researchers began looking to them to treat diseases and genetic disorders and have had great success. The cells are “smart,” having an ingrained honing mechanism that leads them to the area of the body where they are needed by reacting to certain signals received from the surrounding tissue. By finding a way to mimic these signals, researchers have been able to guide introduced stem cells to the areas that need treatment, leading to life-changing results and cures.

Transplants are not the only way that stem cells are impacting human health though. They also have a role in the advancement of medicine by allowing researchers greater insight into the development process of many types of tissues and organs. They can use these findings to study disease, develop and screen new drugs, and test for effectiveness and side effects on a cellular level.

Stem cells used in research and in medical treatments are derived from bone marrow and saved umbilical cord blood following birth, as well as embryonic stem cells created in a lab. Cord blood banking has become a way that families can ensure they will always have a stem cell match should their child, or possibly a sibling, ever need it to fight a disease.

Today, more than 80 diseases can be treated with stem cells but that number has the potential to be almost limitless. Through the use of stem cells and their ability to differentiate into any type of cell, researchers are now capable of studying every type of cell in the body and its reactions to disease or injury. Theoretically, because of this, there is virtually no disease that is immune from possible treatments with time and continued study.

Umbilical cord banking provides peace of mind for families. It means that they know they will have options if ever needed, whether it be for a disease currently known to be treatable with stem cells or a future cure yet to be discovered.

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