What are stem cells? The body consists of various organs that are made of different kinds of cells that are very specialized or differentiated.  Each specialized kind of cell performs a certain function e.g. the brain cells are very different from liver cells and cannot be used to replace each other.  All these different kind of cells arise from cells called the stem cells. 

Types of Stem Cells

Totipotent cells:  Some, like cells derived from the embryo during the early days after formation can differentiate into any and every kind of cell in the body.  However cells from one species (humans) cannot be used to produce cells of another species (monkeys, dogs, cats etc). 

Pluripotent cells:  Other kinds of stem cells that can differentiate into nearly all kind of cells

Multipotent cells:  These are capable of differentiating into a certain number of closely related family of cells, but not all.  An example of this are the stem cells found in the cord blood.

How do you obtain cord blood cells?  

Cord blood is the blood which is drawn from the umbilical cord immediately after the birth of a baby.  This blood can be collected and stored for long periods of time.  This is called cord blood banking.

How are the stem cells used? 

Blood contains various kinds of cells which most of us have heard of viz. the RBCs (red blood cells), different kinds of WBCs (white blood cells) and platelets.  The blood in the umbilical cord is also very rich in stem cells.  These stem cells are separated in the laboratory from the other populations of blood cells, processed and preserved at very low temperatures for as long as necessary.  They are used to treat a variety of diseases, for which there are no other known cures.