Cord blood uses vary depending on the disease it is designed to treat. It is the stem-cell rich blood taken from the umbilical cord and placenta of a newborn baby and stored for later use. Stem cells are cells that human beings can use to replicate any other cells in their bodies however every human being gets a set number of stem cells. They are generally stored in bone marrow; however, thanks to the stem cells retrieved from cord blood scientists are now able to access a store of stem cells that would otherwise be dumped as medical waste.
Stem cells are particularly useful in treating degenerative disorders, cancers and immune deficiencies. Research into cord blood uses is still on-going and new ways to use them are constantly being discovered. The primary requirements for the procedures to work are that the patient's and the donor's blood types match as closely as possible.
Banking Cord Blood
Unless you specifically request that your child's cord blood be preserved, the hospital will throw it away which is a waste of a valuable resource. You may not be comfortable with your baby's cord blood being used to treat other people however you can still store the blood for use on your own child if he or she develops complications in the future.
Statistics show that the chances of your child needing to use cord blood in the future are incredibly small however like any other form of insurance, you would rather have it and not need it.
Treating Diseases Using Cord Blood
Cord blood is used to treat a variety of illnesses. Leukemia in particular is one disease that has benefited immensely from stem-cell treatments. The primary modes of treatment using cord blood are;
- Allogenic treatment where the patient receives stem cells from a donor,
- Autologous treatment where the patients are treated using their own stem cells.
Bone marrow is the most common source of stem cells however they require an exact match for the procedure to work. Cord blood gives doctors a way around this requirement because stem cells taken from cord blood are still immature and more likely to settle in nicely into their new host's body. Here are a few of the most beneficial cord blood uses in medicine.
Cord Blood for Heart Failure
Cognitive heart failure is a condition which restricts the heart's ability to pump blood effectively. A number of heart conditions can lead to cognitive heart failure which eventually results in coronary heart disease and hypertension. There is no known cure for cognitive heart failure however research involving stem cells is showing great promise.
Researchers used stem cells to grow cardiomyocytes which beat on their own just like a normal heart would. This shows that they could potentially be used to replace damaged heart tissue in patients. The only issue is that they are not sure if the new cells will integrate with the patients' surrounding tissue and beat in unison. Even if they are unable to make the new cells stick onto their new host, scientists can use the cultures as models to further understand how heart failure happens.
Stem Cells to Regrow Teeth
Once your teeth have cavities or fall out then there is no way for your body to grow them back naturally. Scientists have recently found a way to use a combination of stem cells and laser treatment to get around this problem.
Stem cells can grow into just about any kind of human cell as long as they get the right stimulus. If you can introduce the right kinds of growth factors then the stem cells will turn into whatever kind of cells you want. The only issue is that the growth must be done in a controlled environment such as a petri dish then transferred to the host body. Dr. David Mooney and his team at Harvard's Wyss Institute have found a way to bypass this requirement.
The team ran a study on mice where they drilled holes into their teeth in a manner that simulated tooth decay. Adult stem cells were then placed in the exposed pulp and the growth factors were stimulated using non-ionizing lasers. Follow-up examinations 12 weeks later showed that the dentin had indeed started to grow back.
Regrowing teeth rather than replacing them is a huge step in the dental field and using stem cells from cord blood rather than bone marrow reduces the risk of the host's body rejecting the new cells. Human trials are still pending.
Stem Cells in Treating Blood Disorders
Leukemia is the blanket term for cancers in the blood. In every case of leukemia, too many white blood cells are formed and they do not mature naturally which means that they are unable to defend the body from infections and in some cases they even prevent normal white blood cells from being formed. If not treated successfully, leukemia is fatal.
Patients with leukemia were among the first to be treated using stem cells. Chemotherapy is still the go-to option for treating this cancer however it also kills the patients' healthy blood cells. Stem cell treatment offers a solution to the harmful effects of chemotherapy because they can replace the damaged cells with hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). The main limitation to the success of stem-cell blood transplants is whether a matching donor is available or not.
Compatible stem cells are preferably taken from the patient's own bone marrow but this is not always an option. The only other option is to find a donor however in most cases only blood relations have stem cells that match and even then the chances are slim. Parents who banked their child's cord blood don't have to worry about this issue because the stem cells are a perfect match and were taken before the complications started. Even if they did not bank their own cord blood, cord blood that was donated from another child is much more likely to be a successful match than stem cells taken from the marrow of a blood relation.
The first successful cord blood transplant was carried out in in Paris in 1988 to treat a young boy who suffered from Fanconi anemia. Since then the treatment has been used to treat more than 70 blood-related illnesses including myelodysplastic syndromes, neuroblastoma and numerous other immune system deficiencies. More than 5000 of those cord blood uses came from unrelated donors.
To Bank or Not to Bank?
We all want to have healthy children however life has a way of throwing unexpected problems our way. Leukemia, heart disease, and numerous other forms of cancer are very difficult to treat so give your children an extra form of protection by banking their cord blood cells rather than letting them get thrown away. Chances are that you won't need to use them however they could save someone else's life.