Cleft Palate affects 1 in 700 babies and may now be treated with stem cells from the umbilical cord.
The NHS explains that “the gap is there because parts of the baby’s face didn’t join together properly during development in the womb.” Babies can be born with a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both. A cleft lip may just affect one side of the lip or there may be two clefts.
Clefts range from a small notch to a wide gap that reaches the nose.
Cleft lips and cleft palates can cause a number of problems including, difficulty feeding, hearing problems, ear infections, dental problems and speech and language difficulties.
Cleft palate is currently treated in the UK with surgery. Correction is usually carried out at 3-6 months and an operation to repair a cleft palate is usually performed at 6-12 months.
Bone grafting surgery used to close the cleft means taking bone from elsewhere in the child’s body, usually the hip.
The umbilical cord contains different types of stem cells, some of which can repair and regenerate bone and other body tissues. These cells can be used as part of the child’s corrective operation, stimulating the body to heal itself and meaning that bone grafting is not necessary. The child’s own stem cells can be used, so the match will be perfect and the cells should graft readily. Siblings’ stem cells are also often a close enough match to be accepted by the body and aid treatment.
After the baby is born, the midwife or a phlebotomist collects the baby’s cord blood, placenta and cord and it is couriered to a cord blood and tissue bank like Biovault Family. The cells are then processed (in the case of cord blood) and stored cryogenically until the baby is ready for surgery. They are then securely transported to the hospital.
“A major potential advantage of the stem cell procedure” according to Science News “is avoiding the need for later bone grafting surgery. Bone grafting has potential complications and subjects the child to one or more additional surgeries.”