Some parents consider saving cord blood an equivalent of biological insurance for their children. They want to be sure that the cord blood will be available if the child or another family member will need a bone marrow transplantation.
What is cord blood?
Umbilical cord blood is the blood that is collected after ligation of the umbilical cord from the mother’s side and the placenta. It’s actually placental blood. It amounts to about 180 milliliters (6 ounces) on average.
We often come across information about children with serious diseases, when even medicine can’t save their lives as they need a donor. Children have to wait for the donor for some years… Science has proven that every baby is born with extra immunity. This immunity is in the small amount of blood that remains in the vessels of the placenta after cutting the umbilical cord. This blood is the source of precious stem cells. Doctors from all over the world advise parents to save cord blood.
Bone marrow has long been considered the optimal source of stem cells. However, the donor sample is worth about 40 thousand euros. Only 30 years ago scientists realized that cord blood contains the same blood-forming cells even in a greater quantity and better quality. This material that can help save lives was previously thrown away with medical waste!
Today in many States in the U.S. doctors must inform pregnant women about the possibility of cord blood saving. Cord blood banks are now common in all developed countries of the world and cord blood saving became commonplace for parents.
Stem cells in cord blood.
According to pediatricians, stem cells are the first and universal body cells, they are the basis of the entire body because they can mature into heart cells, skin cells, liver cells, etc. Stem cells theory is considered a revolution in medicine.
Umbilical cord blood contains a very large number of stem cells (bone marrow cells responsible for the production of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets), which makes it a great product for bone marrow transplantation. If in the future the child will need a bone marrow transplant, it’ll be possible to use the saved cord blood, without any need to search for a suitable donor.
Moreover, if someone of the brothers or sisters of the baby will require such a transplantation, it is very likely that he or she will be able to use this cord blood.
Stem cells in cord blood don’t have the opportunity to produce antibodies, so there is less likelihood that they will cause problems associated with blood incompatibility, which often happens during bone marrow transplantation.
Which diseases can cord blood help to combat?
Using stem cells is a relatively new approach to the fight against many dangerous diseases. Bone marrow transplantation, which exists for over 20 years and is recognized as the «gold standard» in the treatment of various forms of leukemia, is based on intravenous administration of umbilical cord blood cells. Nowadays cord blood is used not only to overcome acute and chronic leukemias. Cord blood help treat various forms of anemia, lymphoma, myelodysplasia, breast, testicular, ovarian and kidney cancer, neuroblasts, brain tumors, sarcoma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, stroke, diseases of the nervous system, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, AIDS, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, liver cirrhosis, congenital immunodeficiency, diseases of cardiovascular system, etc.
Collection of cord blood is painless and harmless. This procedure takes about 10 minutes. It is carried out during a vaginal delivery or after caesarean section. Umbilical cord blood is collected with a syringe and placed into a special container with a sterile solution of the substance (anticoagulant) that prevents clotting. After this the blood is delivered to a blood bank, where it is first checked for the presence of infections, and then laboratory assistants remove excess plasma and almost all the red cells to obtain concentrate.
This concentrate is analyzed with the help of laboratory methods to identify cell viability and then it is cryopreserved and stored throughout the person’s life. With the help of modern technology stem cells can be stored at low temperatures. They do not lose their properties, and if their owner faces some serious health problems, they will be used for successful treatment.
A small amount of blood (sample) for laboratory studies is also stored together with the cord blood concentrate. If someone needs the cord blood, this sample will be checked for compatibility.
Of course, not all parents who decide to save cord blood, do it for the family. Many families send the blood to the cord blood banks that provide it to the people who really need it at the moment (e.g. those who have undergone radiotherapy or suffer from various diseases of blood, immune system or disorders of metabolism).
Treatment with stem cells of umbilical cord blood is still relatively rare method. It should be also kept in mind that it’s possible to collect cord blood at birth only in a small amount, which won’t be enough to save an adult.
Add to that the fact that the shelf life of stem cells is still not precisely defined (the procedure of stem cells preservation is so new that we just haven’t had the chance to evaluate real time, during which the cells retain their medical properties), and you will clearly see why the question about the preservation of umbilical cord blood remains controversial.
Medical practice has shown that stem cells from umbilical cord blood mature much more slowly than stem cells from the blood of an adult donor. Sometimes this creates very great difficulties in the treatment of children who suffer from leukemia, since during the pre-treatment period almost all the leukocytes and platelets in the blood are destroyed. After using the cord blood, a child is completely defenseless against any infection and may die from bleeding because of any scratch or injury. Therefore, many hematologists are wary of the use of cord blood as a substitution therapy. However, the method is promising and it will continue to develop as a means of leukemia treatment.
If you’ve decided to save the cord blood, you will have to make all necessary arrangements in advance, because the cord blood must be collected in minutes of childbirth. Obviously, this is one of those questions that you need to discuss with your doctor in advance in case your baby decides to be born a little earlier than planned.