Cord Blood Banking is a practice that came into existence during 1988 when a five-year-old anemic patient received the world’s first stem cell transplant. The transplant was aided by his sister’s cord blood which was extracted & used in the operation, that went on to be a successful one.
Today, with the unraveling of the stem cells’ miraculous ability to heal, cord blood has helped cure nearly eighty diseases through transplants, having saved & improved nearly 30,000 lives since three decades.
The Umbilical Cord – Basics Explained
A. The Composition
The umbilical cord harbors two important variants of stem cells. The Hematopoietic Cells found in the cord blood, and the Mesenchymal Cells found in the cord tissue, are two parent cells that are multipotent in nature. After being transferred to the neonate through the umbilical cord, these stem cells develop into different classes of cells that are present inside a human’s body.
The Hematopoietic Stem Cells regenerate to form:
- Red Blood Cells
- White Blood Cells
The Mesenchymal Stem Cells regenerate to form:
- Bone Cells
- Fat Cells
B. The Potential
Hematopoietic & Mesenchymal Stem Cells are different from regular cells.
- These stem cells are capable of rampant regeneration. Hence, upon introduction of a unit of stem cells in a host’s body, a small dose can tirelessly multiply & compensate for the loss of blood or help the patient recover through internal and external tissue damages.
- Post administration, the HSC stem cells have the uncanny ability to locate the damaged parts in the host’s body. They travel to the affected area via blood streams & start regenerating to initiate recovery at an impressive speed.
C. Other Sources
The stem cells are present all over the body. But their low concentration & painful methods of extraction hinders the possibilities of large-scale stem cell banking programs. Stem cells are present in the bone marrow (pelvis, femur & sternum), in the peripheral bloodstream & the umbilical cord.
Originally, HSC stem cells were extracted from bone marrows but the process is relatively elaborate & traumatic. The cells are pulled out of a syringe from the hip bone and require a twenty day recovery period from a single extraction.
Removal of stem cells from the blood stream requires elaborate preparations in advance, including the administration of cytokines to stimulate the movements of stem cells in the bloodstreams. Though twice as much stem cells can be extracted from this method than the bone marrow procedure, it highly exposes the host to Graft-versus-Host Disease, where the transplanted stem cells become incompatible & harm the host’s body instead of healing it.
Extraction of stem cells from cord blood & cord tissue is the least invasive procedure yet introduced. The stem cells extracted from cord blood are relatively much younger than the ones extracted from the bone marrows & blood streams of adults. Hence, these nascent stem stems procured freshly from the cord have the highest chances of being compatible with the host’s body, lending high chances of recovery & gain of immunity.
D. Method of Extraction
During a delivery, the umbilical cord is preserved instead of being treated as a medical waste. The blood from the veins in the umbilical cord and the placenta is collected & preserved as a rich source of HSC stem cells, and the cord itself is preserved as a rich source of Mesenchymal cells. The method of extraction doesn’t interfere with a delivery or affect a delivery and is totally painless for both mother & her child as the extraction is done in a different room with a cord retrieved post delivery.
Cord blood can be retrieved & preserved even after the process of delayed cord clamping. 25% of the stem cell rich blood can still be collected after 60 seconds of delayed cord clamping. Hence, the practice of collecting the cord blood during deliveries & storing them in public or private cord blood banks has become extremely popular owing to its usefulness in the medical field.
E. Preservation & Usage
Parents can preserve their child’s cord blood in a private bank. With this, they will have exclusive rights over their property and can use it in the case of any future medical emergencies. The blood is extracted and kept in a controlled environment, where the staff collects the stem cells & stores them in cryogenic containers for long term usage. Stem cells can be preserved for decades, with nearly a million units preserved throughout the world in the present.
Or they can opt to donate their child’s cord blood to a public bank to someone in need of it or for the purpose of research. Parents who have a family history of inherited diseases and parents who are expecting the birth of high-risk infants are highly advised to preserve the cord blood in a private bank as their child may run the higher risk of developing one form of disease or another.
Cord blood extracted from one’s own body or one of the biological siblings harbors the most compatible culture of HSC stem cells that prove to be helpful in curing a host of medical conditions
- Neurological Disorders like Autism & Cerebral Palsy.
- Bone Marrow Cancer like Plasma Cell Leukemia
- Inherited Immune System Disorders like Pearson’s Syndrome
- Metabolic Disorders like Hurler’s Syndrome
The FDA has reported a list of eighty diseases that has been cured by administration of cord blood cells into the host’s body. With medical research still on a hoard to explore the miraculous benefits of cord blood, every parent should be extensively advised for standard extraction & banking of this life-giving elixir.