Umbilical cord blood used to be disposed of in the past but we now know that it’s a priceless source of blood stem cells. Cord blood represents a wonderful and unique opportunity to do more scientific stem cell research that can save lives and give a better quality of life for those who need it most. It’s already being used to treat some blood disorders. It contains rare cells (called haematopoietic stem cells) which are found in bone marrow. Let’s look at some of the benefits of cord blood.
1. Treating Cancer And Other Disorders
Children suffering from genetic blood disorders or even cancers such as leukemia can be treated with stem cells from cord blood. The cord blood is transplanted into the patient and the diseased or cancerous cells can be replaced by new, healthy blood cells. This offers the child or patient much needed hope in fighting and surviving this deadly disease. In fact, it has been used to treat up to 80 diseases and disorders including:
- Red cell asplasia
- Sickle-cell anaemia
- Hurler syndrome
- Hunter syndrome
- Thymic dysplasia
2. Easier Collection
Collecting cord blood is much easier than collecting bone marrow. Collecting bone marrow is more invasive and there is also a certain amount of pain involved. It’s done in the operating room under general anaesthetic. It can take an hour or two. Compared to cord blood collection, it’s also more costly. The doctor inserts a needle into the pelvic bone and draws marrow and blood. It’s repeated until enough is obtained. Sometimes the donor will have to spend the night in hospital. The area will be sore for a few days.
On the other hand, with cord blood, the whole procedure may only take five minutes. It’s safe for both mother and the newborn and is absolutely painless. It does not interfere with the immediate bonding of mother and baby.
3. No Exact Match Required
Unlike bone marrow transplants (from an unrelated donor) where there must be an exact match, with cord blood, there does not have to be an exact match. This means there’s a possibility of finding a suitable donor much faster. This can be crucial, since time may be of the essence.
4. Less Risk Of Complications
Cord blood stem cells seem to be accepted much better by the body than bone marrow transplants, thus reducing the risk of complications. Sometimes, transplanted cells can attack the body, known as graft-versus-host-disease (GvHD). Even when a donor is a blood relative, there is a good chance that GvHD can still occur. When unrelated, the chances are quite high. The only time the chances of GvHD occurring happen to be low is when the donor is an identical twin. Cord blood cells are much better accepted because they have not been contaminated by viruses or exposed to any diseases.
5. Stem Cells Are Young
Because the cells are young, it’s at its optimal ‘health’, or at its peak. They can therefore form new stem cells and possibly, different types of cells as well. Just like the normal aging process, taking stem cells from elsewhere from someone older means that these cells are not at their peak, due to aging. Using cord blood stem cells from the birth of a baby means that these stem cells are in the best shape (being ‘brand new’), offering patients the greatest chance of success.
The beauty of cord blood stem cells is that it can go straight to the source of damage or physical harm. This is incredibly invaluable and beneficial. It’s also believed that stem cells have the ability to regenerate and form additional stem cells and possibly, even nerve cells.
A molecule known as UM171 was discovered that offers great potential not only for children, but adults as well. This molecule can multiply the stem cells found in cord blood. Up to now, only babies and young children could be treated, but this new discovery means that enough stem cells could be made to treat adults as well. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, many forms of cancer can be treated successfully as research continues.