The advent of stem cell therapy is the future of medicine. These therapies have the potential to treat if not cure degenerative diseases. One natural barrier to stem cell research are the sociopolitical issues relating to stem cells harvested from aborted embryos. Cord blood, however, is another place to harvest stem cells that does no harm to an infant and doesn’t carry the same moral issues. Cord blood is painlessly taken from the umbilical cord and placenta, which is usually discarded as biological waste. With the numerous advantages of this technique, a flurry of hospitals and start up companies are emerging to handle placenta tissue donation.
There are approximately six million pregnancies per year and only a fraction of these are donated or preserved. The gains of these collections are vast. A cord blood match can be injected into a patient to treat leukemia, sickle cell anemia, lymphoma and other diseases to name a few. Private cord blood banks are also popping up to store stem cells for individual patients. With benefits to recipients and potential benefits to a family, it is no wonder that this market is growing. By 2015, 10,000 cord blood transplants are expected to be completed worldwide.
Cord blood is blood rich in stem cells that is collected from the placenta and umbilical cord after childbirth. Post delivery, the umbilical cord is clamped, and blood from the cord and placenta is collected into a sterile bag called a cord blood unit. In the lab the blood is analyzed for blood forming cells and contamination before being stored in liquid nitrogen.
Private Vs. Public
Along with the science has come an influx of cord blood banks. Cord blood is free to donate at many hospitals. At the same time, there is also a privatized approach to cord blood collection intended for the child and their family.
1. Your child’s heath: Cord blood needs a match to benefit the recipient. While it may be hard to find a match to a cord blood donation there is one recipient that we know is a match: the child it came from. Private banks are now charging to store cord blood encase the designated infant will ever need it.
2. Family recipient: Harvested cord blood is a stem cell match to the infant and also has a better chance to match a family member, which can be stored exclusively at a private bank.
1. Donate to save life: With a public donation you are allowed to easily donate cord blood, free of charge, that will potentially save a life.
2. Science: A cord blood donation may also be used to advance medical science and cure diseases.
Storing or donating cord blood is by no means standard now, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be someday. In the future, it may be as common as donating blood or getting an ultrasound: two procedures that only became normal practice in the last century. The chances that your stored stem cells will be used is difficult to measure, however, the benefits of this precaution to the patient is continuously developing and represents an exciting prospect for the future of medicine.