Increasing awareness around the medical treatments available through umbilical cord blood and tissue stem cell transplants, means that stem cell banking is becoming a hot topic in parenting circles.
However, because there are multiple sources of stem cells within the body – including bone marrow, umbilical cord and placenta blood, umbilical cord and placenta tissues, adult peripheral blood and other body tissues – it can become confusing to understand the differences and benefits of the stem cells from each of these sources.
There are different kinds of stem cells that are found in the human body throughout the course of life. They vary in exactly what they can and cannot do, but fall within two main categories.
|Multipontent /adult||Can only differentiate into certain types of specialised cells.|
|Work as a repair system in maintaining the specific tissues|
|Found in e.g. blood stem cells forming red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, mesenchymal stem cells forming only certain tissue cells etc.|
|Cord blood and tissue stem cells can be found in a newborn baby’s umbilical cord and are classified as adult stem cells. These stem cells are practically brand new and have a greater capacity to grow, multiply and differentiate meaning that they have enhanced regenerative abilities in comparison to other sources.|
|Pluripotent||Can differentiate into all specialised cells in the body.|
|Embryonic stem cells.||Induced pluripotent stem cells.|
|Controversial and not part of our business or education process.||Generated from specialised cells by using a technique called “reprogramming”. This ground breaking work was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012 and is in the very early stages of research.|
While bone marrow is generally more commonly known as source for blood stem cell transplants, more attention is being devoted to educating prospective parents regarding the life-saving potential of collecting and storing stem cells from the umbilical cord and blood.
Umbilical cord blood
Cord blood contains high concentrations of blood stem cells and is taken from the new-born’s umbilical cord and placenta immediately following birth. When these umbilical cord blood stem cells are used in transplants, they can help restore the immune and blood systems to help fight diseases and replace diseased blood.
Cord blood stem cell transplants have unique advantages over traditional bone marrow transplantation in that cord blood is more tolerant to HLA disparity, meaning that the HLA tissue types do not have to match 100%. This also lowers the risk of developing severe Graft-vs-Host disease (GVHD), which is a condition that occurs when the white blood stem cells (T-cells) in the donor’s stem cells (graft) attack the cells of the recipient (host) after a transplant. Cord blood stem cells are readily available for transplant and storage costs less than collecting a donor’s bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells.
Umbilical cord tissue
Cord tissue also contains Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). However, the younger cells present in cord tissue have a greater ability to multiply and differentiate when compared to their older donor counterparts, and are thus considered a superior resource when compared to bone marrow MSCs.
In addition, the large volume of umbilical cord and ease of physical manipulation increases the yield of MSCs. The presence of placental barrier, means that umbilical cord MSCs also have a lower risk of bacterial and viral infections than those isolated from bone marrow and fat.
Cord blood stem cells are already being used to treat several diseases, and the fact that they could become a vital component of the future treatment of many other diseases and injuries, means stem cell banking is something every expecting parent should be considering.