Common medical conditions such as heart disease, elevated cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and certain types of diabetes can often be managed and treated through simple changes to lifestyle choices and environmental conditions.
On the other hand, when it comes to blood cancers and other blood disorders, these can often only be treated or cured by means of a stem cell transplant. This however, requires a blood stem cell transplant from a willing donor. And although it is sometimes possible for relatives to provide a tissue match, 70% of patients will not have a suitable donor in their families. They will have to start their search for a matching, unrelated donor.
However, it is not that simple. Blood stem cells can be obtained from three sources, bone marrow, peripheral blood and umbilical cord blood.
If your child needed donor stem cells from bone marrow, you would need approach the South African Bone Marrow Registry to find a possible stem cell match.
However, there is no guarantee that a match will be found. In fact, the odds are pegged at around 1:100 000. Additionally, the search for a possible match can be debilitating to a family’s finances and hope for recovery. Moreover, delays in commencing stem cell therapy and the high costs involved, could hamper the success of the treatment.
For umbilical cord blood as an alternative, your only option is privately stored stem cells as South Africa, despite its diverse ethnic make-up, has no public cord blood stem cell bank, which makes the likelihood of finding a matching, unrelated donor of stem cells from umbilical cord blood almost impossible.
And yet these cells have many advantages over that of bone marrow –
- A new-born’s stem cells are young and flexible, which means they have better regenerative abilities. Umbilical cord stem cells have greater therapeutic potential than bone marrow stem cells. They are young and active (a maximum of nine months old), compared to stem cells from other sources. This means that they can differentiate faster.
- Cord blood is collected in advance, tested, cryopreserved and stored – ready to use when needed. Because your baby’s stem cells were collected at birth, they are ready to use if necessary. Unlike bone marrow, there is no need to take time to locate a possible donor and then determine whether he or she is still willing and able to donate if a transplant is required.
- Cord blood transplants do not always require a perfect match. Studies have shown that cord blood transplants can be performed in cases where the donor and the recipient are only partially matched. In contrast, bone marrow grafts require a perfect degree match in most cases. Because partially matched cord blood transplants can be performed, cord blood potentially increases a patient’s chance to find a suitable donor.
- Cord blood transplants are associated with a lower incidence of graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD) in allogeneic transplants (e.g. between siblings). The immune cells in cord blood are less likely to attack the recipient’s own tissues and cause the transplant-related complication of GVHD.
Therefore, having direct access to stem cells harvested from your children’s cord blood can prove life-saving. In addition to numerous other advantages, not only is the cost associated with cord blood banking significantly lower compared to that of a bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell collection, but the chances of finding a donor match within the family are also increased.
Cord blood stem cell transplants have already changed —and saved— thousands of lives across the globe, and have been used to treat more than 80 diseases, including numerous types of blood cancers, bone marrow failure syndromes, blood disorders, inherited metabolic disorders and deficiencies of the immune system.
So, while managing diseases is always important, stem cell storage is a critical consideration when it comes to ensuring the best possible advantage for your child’s future health.