Stem Cell 101
What are stem cells and why are they valuable?
Stem cells are the body’s very early, primitive or `master` cells from which all other tissues `stem` from. They have two distinct characteristics:
- Stem cells can continually make copies of themselves and multiply through cell division for the duration of life.
- Stem cells also have the remarkable potential to mature and develop into various types of cells and tissues, such as red or white blood cells, platelets, nerve cells, brain cells or even the cells of the heart.
Most living cells are innate with a specific and `pre-assigned` purpose, merging together naturally to form the heart, kidney, liver, brain and so on. Stem cells, on the other hand, are `unspecialized` cells which have the unique ability to adapt into other cells and stimulate new, healthy growth among specific cells throughout the body.
What are the various sources of stem cells?
Stem cells most often found deep in bone marrow and also, in smaller amounts, in the peripheral blood circulation, are the factory of the blood system.
Adult Stem Cells are obtained from bone marrow and require a surgical procedure, usually under general anesthesia, that can cause postoperative pain and poses a small risk to the patient. Also, finding a matching donor for a bone marrow transplant can be difficult and sometimes, impossible.
Embryonic Stem Cells harvested from human embryos is a highly controversial process that is often in the news and at the heart of many moral debates concerning biosafety and bioethical issues. This is not to be confused with umbilical cord blood stem cells.
Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells collected from the umbilical cord of newborn babies offer a perfectly natural, controversy-free method of acquiring stem cells. It is collected in a simple, safe, 5-minute procedure after the baby is delivered, and is risk-free and painless for both mother and baby. Plus, cord blood stem cells are a perfect match for the baby and can potentially be used to treat siblings and other family members as well.
Cord Stem Cells are collected from the tissue of the umbilical cord itself. It is an abundant source of Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs), which are different from the Haematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs) found in cord blood. Similar to umbilical cord stem cell retrieval, there is no risk to either child or mother.
What are the advantages of storing cord blood and cord stem cells?
Graft vs. Host Disease
Cord blood transplants around the world have already saved thousands of lives. Having a significantly lower risk of a potentially fatal complication called graft versus host disease (GvHD), in which donor cells can attack the recipient’s tissues, appears to occur less frequently with cord blood than with bone marrow. This is because cord blood has a muted immune system and certain cells, usually active in an immune reaction, are not yet educated to attack the recipient.
Who can benefit from the use of cord blood and cord stem cells?
A broader range of recipients may benefit from cord blood. These can be stored with StemCord, retrieved and transplanted back to the donor, to the donor’s family member or to an unrelated recipient should the need arise. For a bone marrow transplant to succeed, there must be a nearly perfect match of certain tissue proteins between the donor and the recipient. When stem cells from cord blood are used, the donor cells appear more likely to “take” and engraft, even when there are partial tissue mismatches.
Perfect Match for the Baby
Cord blood are a perfect genetic match for the baby and carry a significant probability of a match in the baby’s siblings, the father, mother, cousins or other family members.
Precious Resource for the Whole Family
One of the most beneficial traits of MSCs from the cord itself is that they can avoid immune systems. While cord blood requires HLA matching, cord tissue derived MSCs do not. This means that your baby’s cord tissue can potentially be used not only his/her siblings but also for you and your parents. Alongside with the potential ability to treat age-related diseases, storing cord tissue stem cells will be an even more precious resource.
The use of cord blood and cord stem cells for transplants may make timely treatment available and more quickly for people who need them. This can be especially crucial for patients with severe cases of leukemia, anemia, or immune deficiency, who would otherwise die before a suitable bone marrow match can be found.
StemCord releases cord blood and cord stem cell units upon 72 hours’ formal notice.
Hope for the Future
Like donated bone marrow, umbilical cord blood can be used to treat a broad range of conditions including anemia, immune disorders, leukemia, lymphomas, various malignancies or genetic disorders. By storing your baby’s umbilical cord blood, and cord stem cells, you can take advantage of today’s medical breakthroughs and tomorrow’s amazing discoveries!
Moreover, cord blood stem cells offer some exciting possibilities for gene therapy for certain genetic diseases, especially those involving the immune system, and treatments for diabetes, heart diseases, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injury, among others.