Stem cells have long held the answer to many a medical mystery, indeed they are now being used in the treatment of over 80 conditions and diseases, however the subject of stem cells, in particular those taken from the umbilical cord, is one that is considered very much taboo.
We’re here to dispel those myths, look at the facts and help explain why cord stem cells hold the answer to our future medical advancements.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are present in many organs in the human body, but what sets them apart from standard cells is that they have the ability to develop into other cell types. So long as a person is alive, these polymorphous cells form the basis of the body’s internal repair system and what this means is that they can repair and replace injured cells or tissues. Incredible, right!?!
In some organs, for example the gut and within bone marrow, stem cells automatically divide with ease to assist repair and to replace any worn out or damaged tissues. However in some organs, like the pancreas and the heart, the stem cells need certain conditions to be able to divide, so the process is a lot more difficult to control.
Doctors and scientists have been working with different stem cells in order to establish which ones offer the optimum benefit to human medicine, and it has been discovered that stem cells are most plentiful in the blood system, and even more so in the blood from the umbilical cord.
To help with your understanding of stem cells and how they are collected from the umbilical cord at birth, the UK’s leading stem cell company Smart Cells have created this infographic.
The somewhat bad image and confusion that sometimes gets attached to cord stem cells arises from the association of those some stem cells taken from embryos. Embryonic stem cells are taken from four to five day old ‘extra’ embryos that have been created in IVF clinics. So of course you can understand how this might be deemed unethical. Cord stem cells, although just as effective as embryonic stem cells, are extracted in an entirely different manner and under entirely different circumstances.
Will It Hurt My Baby?
One major concern that parents have is that the collection of cord blood or cord tissue will be painful and cause distress to both the baby and the mother. Arguably the act of giving birth is in itself trauma enough, so why further this trauma with another procedure to extract stem cells?
Well firstly, extracting your baby’s stem cells at the point of birth is the only opportunity you will get to store what could be the very root of potentially life saving treatment should they ever suffer from a serious illness or disease. Research into cord stem cells has shown their ability to form other tissues in the body, including nerve, bone, cartilage, smooth muscle, cardiac, liver, fat tissue and skin cells. Diseased cells can be replaced with brand new, healthy ones to help rebuild the immune system. So yes cord stem cells are incredibly valuable things and certainly something to consider as a parent when thinking about the future of your baby. Of course you’re unlikely to be thinking about the health of your baby in one, two, five, even ten years time when you’re holding them for the very first time.
But what if…? It’s all about the what if’s…
We still haven’t yet answered the vital question, will it hurt the baby? This again is a common misconception, but no as the infographic displays, the process of extracting stem cells from the umbilical cord is quick and entirely pain free.
Cord stem cells are taken once the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut. A healthcare professional is then able to take the remaining blood from this isolated section of the umbilical cord and store it accordingly. No harm to the baby, no distress to the mother; simply a procedure that would happen regardless, except the cord is kept for stem cell extraction purposes.
There have been many successful stem cell transplants, and there will continue to be many more as the rise in popularity of stem cell storage continues to grow. The very first successful stem cell transplant, which used stem cells from umbilical cord blood was back in 1988 when a young boy was given his newborn sister’s cord blood to treat the blood disorder, Fanconi’s Anaemia.
With more information, most importantly correct information, and continued research into stem cell treatment, it is hoped that more and more conditions and diseases will be able to be treated and cured in future.
*Information provided in a press release by Smart Cells.