The umbilical cord is the lifeline which attaches the fetus to the mother, providing it with essential nutrients. The Cord blood is also a rich source of stem cells and with the advancement of science, the medical uses of cord blood cells are expanding at a rapid pace. There was a time before the 1990’s when the cord blood was discarded, but not anymore. It is now considered to be a goldmine of stem cell banking.
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are cells which have the power to develop into many different types of cells of the body. They are different from the other cells in our body because:
Even after being inactive or frozen for long periods of time, they can still become active and can regenerate.
Under special conditions, they can be made to become tissue or organ-specific cells with special functions. In some organs, such as the gut and bone marrow, stem cells regularly divide to repair and replace worn out or damaged tissues.
Also read: Baby’s First Kick And Every Other Fetal Movement You Need To Know About
How are stem cells banked?
Stem Cells can be banked from 2 sources with each having the ability to treat different diseases:
#1. Stem Cells from Umbilical cord blood
These stem cells are currently able to treat 80 different diseases with more research underway.
#2. Stem Cells from Umbilical cord tissue
The application of these stem cells is more varied as cord tissue can regenerate and can be used to treat bone, cartilage, muscle, skin, and tissue. Currently, commercial stem cells that are being banked is mostly done for the Umbilical Cord Blood only.
Once the expectant parents register with one of the many commercial stem cell banking companies by paying their fees, the following steps need to be followed:
- The parents will receive a cord blood collection kit from the cord blood bank which they must take along to the hospital at the time of delivery.
- Once admitted for delivery, the mother’s blood is collected to be tested for any infectious diseases.
- Upon the birth of the baby but before the placenta is delivered, the healthcare provider will clamp and cut the umbilical cord as normal.
- Approx 40–120 millilitres of cord blood remains in the umbilical cord and placenta. The healthcare provider will extract the cord blood from the umbilical cord at no risk or harm to the baby or mother.
- The collection bag with the baby’s cord blood is placed back inside the collection kit. Parents arrange for the transportation of the collected cord blood to the cord blood bank.
Also read: 10 Most Common Complications During Pregnancy
Why should you bank Stem Cells?
- Currently, stem cells are being used to treat 80 diseases including lymphoma and leukaemia. The list of treatable diseases is growing every day, thanks to rapidly ongoing research in this field.
- Stem cells can not just save the child from whom they are banked but provide protection for his family too. Stem cells can only be used if there is a degree of match between the donor and recipient. A child using his own stem cells is a 100% match, Siblings have a 25% chance of being a perfect match and a 50% chance of being a partial match. Parents have a 100% chance of being a partial match. Even aunts, uncles, grandparents and other extended family members have a high probability of being a match and could possibly benefit from the banked cord blood.
- Different genetic diseases are prevalent in different geographies for which stem cell banking can be used to find a cure:
⇒Some parents want cord blood banking because they have many relatives with an auto-immune disorder like multiple sclerosis, and they know that stem cell transplants show promise for auto-immune diseases.
⇒In Asian countries where the inherited blood disorder thalassemia is prevalent, families can bank cord blood from a healthy baby to provide a sibling cord blood transplant to an older child with thalassemia.
⇒In Africa, cord blood banks could benefit public health by providing cord blood transplants for sickle cell disease by providing stem cells that have a genetic mutation that can combat HIV and AIDS.
⇒Even if the likelihood of your own child using the banked stem cells is small, every sample of banked cells can help build the public stem cell bank which can be utilised by others in need, much like blood banks.
⇒Even though stem cells can be sourced from other sources like bone marrow, cord blood has not been exposed to diseases or environmental pollutants, and it is more accepting of foreign cells. Therefore, it is better at regenerating and treating diseases.
Also read: Water Birth: Benefits And Potential Risks
What if you haven’t banked your child’s stem cells?
Like with any technology which is still in the nascent stage and has ongoing research, there are two schools of thought on stem cell banking. There is nothing to worry about if you haven’t banked your child’s stem cells.
- Most of the banked stem cells are useful only in exceptionally rare circumstances/diseases and the likelihood of those diseases occurring is quite small. In the rare case your child or family might require stem cells, there are private stem cell banks (just like blood banks) you can approach for a likely match.
- There is still debate on the viability of the storage method of the stem cells and how much of those cells are actually retrievable, and in how many years, once banked.
- There are other parts of from which stem cells can be sourced, like bone marrow. However, sourcing stem cells from the bone marrow is a more invasive procedure than sourcing cells from cord blood.
Also read: Stage wise development of fetus (0-9 months)
Whether you choose to bank your baby’s stem cells is a personal decision based on a number of factors. Stem cell banking can be a substantial financial expense with a one-time cost and recurring monthly charges. If you are an expectant parent who is considering banking your child’s cord blood, make sure you consult your doctor and do a thorough research on the cord blood bank you choose.
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