YES TO LIFE IN THE FUTURE, IN WHICH DISEASES CAN PUT THE LIVES OF MANY CLOSE TO THE EDGE, MEANS USING EVERY ALTERNATIVE THAT MEDICAL TECHNOLOGIES CAN OFFER. ONE PROMISING ALTERNATIVE IS THE CRYOGENIC PRESERVATION OF UMBILICAL CORD BLOOD STEM CELLS FOR THE POSSIBLE CURE OF HUNDREDS OF DISEASES IN THE YEARS TO COME.
By Nelson Agelvis and Kate Girard
With so many things to plan for with the arrival of your newborn, from finding the best doctor to choosing the right crib, it can be easy for expecting parents to overlook one of the most important things they can do for the health of their families, which is banking their child’s umbilical cord, blood and tissue.
A newborn’s cord blood is a great source of stem cells, which have the ability to repair or replace damaged cells, making them a valuable resource for treatments and emerging medical research. Today, cord blood stem cells are used in the treatment of nearly eighty diseases, such as lymphoma, leukemia and sickle cell anemia, and more treatments continue to emerge as scientific advancements are made. Scientists believe that stem cells have no expiration date if they are properly stored and processed, enhancing the long term treatment potential for stem cells.
As the science of cord blood banking has advanced and new treatments have emerged, more and more families are seeing the value of stem cells and are choosing to bank their child’s cord blood and cord tissue.
By choosing to store their baby’s cord blood in private banks, families are able to access their child’s cord blood at any time. This gives parents the comfort of knowing they have the best possible options for treatments for their families, should they ever need them. The proven effectiveness of these amazing cells has made cord blood the fastest growing source of stem cells in pediatric transplants since 2000. And as researchers continue to make advancements, the treatment potential of cord blood stem cells continues to expand.
CORD BLOOD TREATMENTS
Unlike any other cell in the body, stem cells have the unique ability to develop into different cell types and repair or replace damaged cells. And as a result of decades of research, cord blood stem cells are currently being used in the treatment of nearly eighty life-threatening diseases, including cancers, blood diseases and immune disorders. To date, more than 30,000 cell transplants have been performed, and researchers continue to unlock new possibilities for potential treatments.
One of the many benefits of banking your child’s cord blood is that later it can potentially be used to treat that child or one of their siblings. And because the patient’s own cells are used, there is no risk the patient’s body will reject them.
Additionally, a sibling’s cord blood is often the best match for a transplant. Similar to bone marrow transplants, cord blood stem cells must “match” a patient before use in treatment.
In addition to the stem cells found in cord blood, the tissue found in a baby’s umbilical cord also contains a special kind of stem cell called mesenchymal stem cells, distinct from cord blood stem cells. Research suggests that these remarkable cells have the ability to rapidly regenerate and differentiate themselves, a unique ability that has led researchers to focus on a wide range of potential treatment areas. Specifically, these cells are being studied for their ability to regenerate bone, cartilage, tendons and neurons.
Currently, umbilical cord tissue cells are not yet used in treatments, however studies continue to show the promise of these unique cells.
It has been more than twenty-five years since the first transplant using umbilical cord blood stem cells was performed in the treatment of one disease. Thanks to countless hours of research, that number has grown to nearly eighty diseases and more than 30,000 transplants have been performed since. Now, researchers are working to build on these advances and unlock the promise of newborn stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, autism, Type 1 diabetes and more.
There is also exciting research underway looking at the potential use of cord tissue stem cells in a variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, lung cancer, Alzheimer’s and sports injuries. Research indicates that the unique stem cells found in cord tissue have the potential to treat conditions that affect muscle, cartilage and nerve cells.
PROGRAMS THAT HELP
Today, there are multiple institutions, both public and private, that help parents to understand and benefit from cord blood stem cell banking, and to help treat patients with diseases that can be cured through cord blood stem cells. Of those institutions, the contributors to this article, ViaCord, are currently the world’s leading provider of cord blood stem cells for transplant or infusion. The power of cord blood stem cells in the treatment of a sibling’s condition, for example, is why ViaCord established its Sibling Connection program, a directed donor program for children identified to be at increased risk for needing a transplant. The program provides ViaCord cord blood and cord tissue banking services at no cost to eligible families whose child has an established diagnosis of a disease that is currently treatable with sibling cord blood transplant. Eligible families receive ViaCord’s Complete Newborn Stem Cell Package, which includes cord blood and cord tissue stem cell collection, processing and five years of storage. ViaCord is dedicated to advancing this kind of scientific research. That’s why they have collaborated with leading researchers across the country, including Lurie Children’s Hospital, the University of Massachusetts, and Duke University Medical Center.
Cord blood stem cells are doing amazing things right now and thanks to ongoing research, the potential for treatment continues to grow. Whether expecting parents choose to bank their child’s cord blood, cord tissue, or both, the decision to bank gives parents the peace of mind that comes with having treatment options for their families should they ever need them.
WHAT IS CORD BLOOD?
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after birth. The stem cells that it contains have been proven to help replace damaged blood cells with healthy ones. They have been used in the treatment of nearly eighty diseases, including lymphoma and leukemia, and more treatments continue to emerge as scientific advances are made.
How is cord blood used in treatments today?
Since that first successful transplant twenty-five years ago, cord blood stem cells have been used over 30,000 times in the treatment of nearly eighty diseases. Additionally, the use of cord blood stem cells in transplants grew from 1% in 2000 to 22% in 2011, and pediatric transplants involving cord blood have doubled since 2002.
WHAT RESEARCH IS CURRENTLY UNDERWAY?
There is a lot of exciting research taking place right now around cord blood and cord tissue, and for more than twenty years, cord blood stem cell banks such as ViaCord have worked with renowned research institutions. For instance, ViaCord, the expert contributors to this article, are collaborating with Duke University Medical Center to study the impact of cord blood infusion on children with autism. They are also working with a number of renowned research institutions to explore the potential benefits of cord blood and cord tissue for premature infants.