What are Cord Blood Stem Cells and What Makes Them Special?
Long after birth, the umbilical cord can continue to sustain life and save lives. Its nutrient-rich blood contains stem cells. These have been used to successfully treat over 80 different diseases, including: leukemia, Thalassemia, Sickle Cell Anemia, and lymphoma.
The blood from an umbilical cord is abundant in stem cells, similar to those found in bone marrow. Cord blood stem cells are unique because they are more adaptive (primitive) compared with the stem cells from bone marrow. They can become red and white blood cells or platelets, three types of mature blood cells found in our blood. These valuable stem cells are successfully transfused intravenously as an alternative to bone marrow stem cell treatments.
There are many advantages to saving cord blood stem cells: collection is quick, non-invasive and risk-free to the mother and baby. Enough cord blood can be collected even if a mother decides to delay cord blood clamping for up to a minute. Once the stem cells have been collected and tested they can be frozen and stored at -150 degrees Celsius. They are easily and readily available to use at any time. Studies show they remain viable even after 22 years in the frozen state.
People from minority groups or with mixed ancestry have unique tissue types. This makes it difficult to find a 100% matching bone marrow donor. Cord blood doesn’t require a 100% match. Therefore, in many cases, cord blood stem cells provide the only treatment option for this group of patients.
Umbilical cord blood stem cells are accepted by all religions (except Jehovah Witness who do not believe in the use of blood products).
Cord blood stem cell research is conducting clinical trials with human subjects. Exciting work is currently underway for treatment of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cerebral palsy and tissue and organ regeneration.
There are ~400,000 births each year in Canada. Sadly, more than 95% of all umbilical cords are discarded into medical waste. Cord blood banking can change this!