While Stem Cell research continues to be a hot topic in the medical field and media alike, Medical Professionals across the globe are already using stem cell transplants to prolong the lives of patients with a wide variety of diseases and disorders, including certain types of cancer and diabetes.
Cord Blood Stem Cells are Special
Stem cells are located in our blood and have the ability to divide and create identical copies of themselves, a process called self-renewal. Certain types of stem cells, such as Haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), have the unique ability to create all of the different blood cell types, which means that they can regenerate the blood of someone with a disorder like sickle cell anemia or leukemia.
Umbilical cord blood happens to be packed with HSCs, as well as pluripotent stem cells, an incredibly unique type of cell that can create almost any other kind of cell in the body, such as lung, liver or brain tissue. Some experts estimate that cord blood contains 10 times the amount of stem cells than bone marrow does, which makes it a potentially more effective source for stem cell transplants for many disorders and conditions that are typically treated with bone marrow transplants.
Cord blood transplants are considered safer and more effective, depending on the condition, for several reasons:
-cord blood once stored is readily available without risk to the mother or child, whereas a bone marrow donor must undergo a surgical procedure
-stored cord blood is ready for use as soon as it is needed, whereas the process of contacting and testing donors listed in a bone marrow registry can take weeks to months
-cord blood stem cells are less likely to be attacked by the recipient body’s immune system than those derived from adult bone marrow, a condition called graft vs. host disease (GVHD)
-cord blood stem cells are younger, and therefore considered to have more regenerative properties
Cord Blood Transplants
To date, over 8,000 cord blood stem cell transplants have been performed to treat some 80 disorders and diseases, including sickle cell anemia, aplastic anemia, leukemia, metabolic storage disorders and certain genetic immunodeficiencies. Extensive research continues on common disorders like juvenile diabetes, and cerebral palsy. Overall, research indicates that the future of stem cell transplants and technologies holds a myriad of possibilities, to treat and cure diseases that afflict millions of children around the world.