When a baby is born there is a unique opportunity to collect the baby’s umbilical cord blood. The cord blood is normally discarded as clinical waste, but an increasing number of parents are opting to collect and store their child’s cord blood stem cells at birth. In recent years the number of conditions that stem cells can treat has vastly increased; who knows what the future holds?
Cord blood stem cells are blood stem cells (haematopoietic stem cells) and can be used to generate red blood cells and cells of the immune system. A hematopoietic stem cell is a cell isolated from the blood or bone marrow that can renew itself or differentiate into a variety of specialised cells. These cells are regarded as ethically acceptable and should NOT be confused with the more controversial embryonic stem cell.
Stem cells are a class of undifferentiated cells (that is they are not biologically “committed” to become any particular tissue) that are consequently able to differentiate into specialised cell types.
Commonly, stem cells come from two main sources, the embryo (embryonic stem cells) and fully developed or adult tissue (adult stem cells). Cord blood is an extremely rich source of adult stem cells which are the building blocks of our blood and immune system.
Every day, science pushes back the boundaries of what we know about how our bodies work, and how diseases affect us. Every day, real scientific advances and medical discoveries hit the headlines offering new scope to improve the quality of our lives.
There is an ever expanding field of research devoted to discovering further cell types in the cord, and uses for them. Perhaps of most importance is that the tissue of the umbilical cord is a rich source of mesenchymal stem cells.
Biovault Family offer to freeze both cord blood – for the haematopoietic stem cells, and whole cord tissue – to facilitate the future potential of MSCs. Scientists continue to research the best methods to extract and grow cord stem cells and so better techniques may be developed than are used currently.
Umbilical cord blood is an accepted source of stem cells for any of the diseases where bone marrow stem cell transplants are a standard therapy. Cord blood stem cell transplants have been used since 1988. In 2002 the first person in the UK received a cord blood transplant (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2116525.stm).
Cord blood stem cells are used as an alternative to bone marrow and have been used in the treatment of a range of diseases including leukaemia, immunodeficiency, sickle cell anaemia, lymphomas and other diseases of the blood. For some conditions there may be a genetic predisposition to that disease, and therefore the child may not be able to use his or her own stem cells. In these cases a matched sibling’s stem cells would be the first choice before looking for alternative donors.
Research is also continuing into the possibilities of treating diseases such as breast cancer, HIV, diabetes, and disorders of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The main advantage of using cord blood over bone marrow is that the stem cells if stored are readily available whereas it may take a long time to find a suitable bone marrow donor. Also, bone marrow donation can be an invasive and painful process. As the cord blood and stem cells stored belong to the donor child, the risk of rejection is eliminated and there is a greater chance of the stem cells being suitable for other members of your family should the need arise.
In addition to storing your child’s umbilical cord blood stem cells you also have the opportunity to store the cord tissue. The cord tissue, or Wharton’s Jelly as it is sometimes referred to, is also a rich source of mesenchymal stromal stem cells.
Mesenchymal stromal stem cells have shown that they have the capability of regenerating damaged or diseased tissues and can differentiate into a range of tissues including bone, nerve, tendon and muscle. It is hoped that in the future they will play an important part in a variety of medical and clinical procedures.
There is extensive research which is on-going into the clinical uses of these stem cells. However, it must be stressed that these trials are in their infancy and thus, the use for this tissue is currently not proven. It is however, due to the potential use of these cells that many of our customers have already taken the option to store their child’s cord tissue.
The cord tissue is prepared and processed for long term storage. Sections of the cord tissue are stored so that in the future when the technology is available, there is a potential that the mesenchymal stem cells could be isolated if required.