We used to think that stem cells could only be collected controversially or invasively.
Now we know better.
The blood that remains in your baby’s placenta and umbilical cord after birth is one of the richest sources of human haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs).
These extraordinary cells can differentiate to become any type of blood cell.
This means that HSCs have the potential to regenerate and replace any damaged blood cell in the human body, giving them the unique ability to treat cancers of the blood and immune system.
Cord blood stem cells are used as an alternative to bone marrow stem cells and have successfully treated leukaemia, immunodeficiency, sickle cell anaemia, lymphomas and other diseases of the blood.
Research is also underway in HSC therapies for breast cancer, HIV, diabetes, and disorders of the nervous system such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
For some conditions there may be a genetic predisposition to that disease, and in these cases a child may not be able to use his or her own stem cells. In this situation a matched sibling’s stem cells would be the first choice before looking for alternative donors.
Stored cord blood stem cells have significant medical advantages over their bone marrow counterparts. Bone marrow collection is invasive and can be a painful procedure. More significantly, it sometimes takes a long time to find a suitable match. Stored cord blood HSCs are immediately available and belong to the donor child. This eliminates the risk of rejection and offers a greater chance of compatibility with other family members.
In 2016, 200 patients in the UK received a cord blood stem cell transplant. This accounts for around 14% of all stem cell transplants in the UK that year.
Cord blood can be donated with blood cancer charity, Anthony Nolan in 10 UK hospitals. This means that for the majority of parents in the UK, private storage is the only way to preserve their baby’s precious cells. Private banking is also the only way to guarantee that the stem cells are available should your baby, or another member of the family, ever need a haematopoietic stem cell transplant. The Human Tissue Authority is offers independent information and guidance for families choosing between public and private cord blood storage.