After a recent reader wrote to me, I decided that I would take some of the suggestion written to me and post about the use of umbilical cord stem cells in helping childhood disease, and scientific research.
NOTE: THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS, ONLY UMBILICAL CORD STEM CELLS.
As a new-ish mother, I remember being told about umbilical cord blood banking procedures in the gigantic packet of information I received at my first OB appointment. I read about it and did some research at the time, and found out a lot of things (back then and now).
What are umbilical cord stem cells?
These stem cells contain genetic material that tells different cells how to act within the body. At birth the umbilical cord stem cells are not programmed by the body, and contain more “pure” information to the cells, giving them an advantage over other types of stem cells that have already had some programming in the body.2
Cord blood can be used to treat over 80 diseases/disorders in pediatrics today.1 Newborn stem cells are at an advantage over other stem cells as they have been unaltered by the body and the environment. This means they will potentially cause fewer problems when used to treat illnesses/diseases. These cells have been used to treat Type I Diabetes (in FL), all the way to cancers, tumors and other immunological disorders. These cells can be used to save a life if the disease or disorder is life threatening.
One stem cell unit can treat an illness of one child under the age of 10. The Americord Registry is looking at methods to collect more stem cells at a time, therefore, potentially treating older patients, as well as more disorders from it’s use.1
Cord stem cell tissue, can also be banked and collected at a birth, but it is not currently being used as anything other than research material. However, research is being done on using cord tissue in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, sports injuries and other connective tissue disorders.1
What is cord blood banking?
As I mentioned above, the idea of cord blood banking is presented to many mothers at their first OB appointment. The option of private banking is mainly what is offered. I looked into other banking and donating options myself as the cost for banking the cord blood cells was too much for us for the first year. However, the option of a public bank, or a donation only exists in certain regions of the country (USA).
Living in Upstate NY, there was no option of a public bank (as of 2011), or a donation of the cord blood cells (as of 2011). In NYC the options were more plentiful.
Upon birth of your child, if you choose to bank or donate the cord blood cells, they are collected through needle extraction (or bag) and stored at a collection facility. The fee for the first collection and annual storage for the first year ranges from $1600 and up. Annual storage fees are then collected for each year it is stored, and they range from $120 per year and up. There are longer lengths of time you can choose to store, such as a 20-year plan. These companies do also offer payment plans that can go over a 2-year period.1
Note: As you will see I used some of these companies as resources. I am in no way promoting any of these companies over another, and I am sure there are others out there. They are just simply a few resources for information about what exists.
What happens after banking the cord blood cells?
Some of the cord blood can be chosen to be part of clinical trials to help further research for certain diseases and disorders (the family is the one who can choose this or not), or it can be used as a match to a family member who has a disease that can be treated with these stem cells, or for self use by the child it was stored for. Banked cells can be a perfect, or partial, match to family members.
Some companies even offer a free collection and storage for future use for sibling treatments.1 This means that if you have a child with an existing diagnosis, that needs treatment with stem cells, and you have another child and collect those stem cells for the treatment of your other child, they will provide their services for free.
How can these cells help?
These cells replace or repair damaged or diseased cells, which can improve the health or save a person’s life in some cases.
These cells are also used in research of disease, as well as drug testing safety and effectiveness. 2
What happens if you do not donate or bank the cord stem cells?
Nothing – they are thrown away as medical waste after a birth.
Want to know more about the results of using these stem cells to treat children?
Again these are only a few of the sites out there than can tell you about what they do.
In the end, it’s a personal and financial decision for each family whether they donate or bank cord blood cells. If you are interested, check out some sites and learn more. If you are having a baby – talk to your OB and see what options you have.
2- Mayo Clinic – http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stem-cells/CA00081
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