Researchers are beginning to see the potential of using umbilical cord blood from newborns to treat a variety of diseases. Stem-cell-rich blood transplants have already saved lives for certain cancers and blood disorders. Now, scientists are studying the effects of these treatments on a wider range of conditions like Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, congenital heart disease, and cerebral palsy (wsj.com).
Discarded as medical waste until recently, cord blood is the remaining blood in the placenta and umbilical cord of newborns (thestir.cafemom.com). It contains stem cells, which are general-purpose cells that can multiply and generate more specialized cells. More specifically, researchers are beginning to focus on hematopoietic progenitor cells. These are similar to the stem cells found in bone marrow, except it’s easier for unrelated donors and recipients because cord blood doesn’t need to be as exact a match. Bone marrow is also an invasive procedure to extract from the donor, while cord blood can be collected with no risk to the mother or baby (wsj.com).
There are a couple common ways of collecting cord blood. One way is to clamp the umbilical cord after birth and withdrawing a few ounces of blood from on of the veins in the cord. Or the more common way is to hang a blood bag below the mother and letting gravity do the work. The cord blood is then stored at a public or private bank. Stored at a public bank, the blood is available for anyone who needs a cord blood transplant, or it may be sold for medical research. However, at a private bank, the cord blood is collected, processed, frozen, and stored exclusively for you (thestir.cafemom.com).
The chances of someone actually needing his or her stored cord blood are low, however some parents still decide to store it. While the fees could be quite costly, storing cord blood could be life changing. Bailey, a child who suffered seizures and a stroke right after birth, began receiving infusions of her own cord blood. The process involved a 15-minute intravenous infusion of cord blood cells, followed by 2 hours of IV fluids. After 3 transfusions, Bailey, now 14 months, appears to be responding well to the treatments. She can now use both sides of her body, learning to walk and talk, and is hitting all the typical developmental milestones for her age (foxnews.com).
Aside from its life-changing effects, cord blood procedures are considered very safe especially when using stem cells that came from the same child, because the body will not reject them (timeslive.co.za)! Research is still in its early stages so for now, as always, it is so important that parents pursue every sort of early intervention and therapy available!