There was a time when the umbilical cord was considered to be waste and was thrown after birthing. Then stem cells were discovered within it and stem cell banking began to gain importance. Now cord blood stem cells are being used to treat over seventy diseases including leukemia, sickle-cell disease and even some metabolic disorders. It is truly becoming the magical elixir.
Stem Cell Banking Pros
Save Your Child
One of the foremost stem cell banking benefit is the chance of saving your child’s life in the future.
The first successful sibling-to-sibling transplant using stem cells from the cord blood was performed in 1988. It was to treat a genetic disorder called Fanconi’s anemia. Since then the stem cells from the cord blood are widely being used to treat many diseases in children. Therefore many parents are deciding to bank their child’s cord blood post birth.
As a would-be parent you should also know that if your child contracts a disease, which needs chemotherapy treatment then that could have a negative impact on the immune system. However if you have banked your child’s cord blood then the stem cells from within that could be used to bolster back her blood and immune system.
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- Stem Cell Banking in India: An Overview
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Stem cell preservation benefits include no pain to you or your child during the extraction process. When the blood is extracted from the umbilical cord after the birthing process there is no discomfort. Alternatively, stem cell collection from the bone marrow collection is an invasive procedure and so requires general anesthesia.
Stem Cell Quality
The stem cells present in the umbilical cord are very new as compared tot hose that are extracted from the bone marrow. Hence freezing your baby’s cord blood means having a resource of higher quality stem cells.
Also since her cord blood stem cells are new they will not be contaminated with any latent viruses. During a transplant, this results in better acceptance by the body than stem cells from bone marrow.
Finding the perfect match of your baby’s stem cells might be a challenge if you haven’t banked her cord blood during birth. But you are saved from this worry if you have. This is one of the important stem cell preservation benefits.
In fact, your baby’s cord stem cells will not only be a be a perfect lifetime match for her but will also:
- Have a 25% chance of a perfect match or a 50% chance for a partial match for the sibling.
- Using genetically related stem cells, which are not carriers of the disease being treated, result in fewer complications during a transplant.
Research has also shown that transplants using cord blood can done using a partial match. However bone marrow grafts require a complete matching. This is because cord blood stem cells can easily reproduce in the host after transplant and are more tolerant of HLA (HumanLeukocyte Antigens) mismatches.
This reduces the chances of the person developing post transplant graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). GvHD is when the immune cells from unrelated donors attacks the patient’s own tissues.
Are you asking yourself “Is stem cell banking useful?” The answer is “Yes.”
The umbilical cord connects the child to her mother for the forty weeks of pregnancy. After birthing, till a few years back the cord was thrown. But now it is an important part even after birth.
Once the cord blood is collected it is all routine testing is completed before the unit is frozen and stored. So it is ready to use immediately. So if you bank your child’s cord blood after birth, then you will be wasting no time looking for a donor if an emergency transplant is ever required.
Research New Treatments
Till now most of the diseases that have been treated using stem cells from the cord blood have been blood related disorders. However now research is being done to use the stem cells to rebuild cardiac tissues, repair spinal cord injuries and even reverse the effects of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The clinical trials for these are however still at an early stage. But by banking your baby’s umbilical cord blood you will be helping her to have to these health advancements tomorrow.
Stem Cell Banking Cons
Banking your child’s stem cells might save her life in future and so should not be measured in financial terms. After all the benefits of stem cell banking is far more than the cost that is associated with it. Especially since many of you would be paying huge amounts to get your child the best stroller or get her an admission into the best school. However, this said, you should know that cord blood banking is an expensive affair across the world – even in India.
The charges include:
- An initial processing fee
- A banking fee
- An annual storage fee
The initial cost ranges between $600 to $1800 for the first year. Thereafter it is around $100 per annum.
Embryonic Stem Cells are Better
Till recently the benefits of stem cell banking was reserved mainly to treat blood related disorders. Although many studies are in progress, scientists feel that the potential of embryonic stem cells to develop into many different types of cells is much more.
Not Enough Stem Cells in Cord Blood
The volume of cord blood that is collected is small. Therefore the number of stem cells available in it is low as compared to those that can be obtained from the bone marrow.
Engraftment to the patient’s blood is slower with cord blood. This also makes such patients more prone to postoperative infections in the first couple of months after the transplant. This problem is, however, more with adults, as they need more cells during the operation than children do.
Till now, there have been very few transplants using cord blood stem cells. Most operations have been done on patients not weighing more than 90 pounds.
Since cord blood banking is still relatively new, most companies are a little unsure of how long the unit will remain viable. Hence many a times when the unit cannot be used for a transplant it gets used for research instead
Umbilical Stem Cells Won’t Cure All
Stem cells derived from your baby’s umbilical cord will not be able to sure all diseases. This is especially true if your child has a genetic disease. In such cases the stem cells from the umbilical cord will also contain the same genes as your baby’s.
This is where public banks become important. In public banks the stem cells comes from an unrelated donor.
During donation of cord blood families are asked about their family history of genetic diseases. The samples are also tested for common genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia. Information about diseases that the infant might have is also found out about during the collection of the sample. Despite this some genetic diseases may exist in the cord blood sample.
Cord blood transplantation can expose your child to a rare genetic disorder of the immune system or blood. However, the chances of getting this disorder are less than 1 in 10,000.
This disorder cannot be detected during the testing the cord blood sample.
It can remain dormant within your child for many years before it surfaces.
One Time Availability
While cord blood stem cells can save your child from serious diseases, it is available only one time. IN cases of recurrence, a second time availability of it is not possible. On the other hand, in cases of bone marrow transplants the donor can be asked to donate:
- White blood cells (T-lymphocytes or T-cells) to help fight a recurrence of a disease like leukemia in the patient
- Marrow for the second time if the first one fails to engraft
Stem cell banking pros and cons exist. So think logically, emotionally, physically and financially when you decide about banking your child’s cord blood. Happy pregnancy and an even happier parenting to you!