Stem Cell Transplantation
Newborn infants no longer need their umbilical cords, so they have traditionally been discarded as a by-product of the birth process.
In recent years, however, the stem cell rich blood found in the umbilical cord has proven useful in treating some types of health problems as those treated using bone marrow stem cells.
n the 1970, medical researchers discovered that human umbilical cord blood contained the same kind of stem cells found in bone marrow.
In 1988, M.D Anderson transplanted human umbilical cord blood into a 5 year old boy suffering from an untreatable type of anemia. Ten years after the transplant, the boy is alive and seems to be cured of his disease.
WHAT ARE STEM CELLS?
Stem cells are unique type of cells in the body that can divide and differentiate into any kind of cells. Normally in the bone marrow they develop into three types of blood cells; (i) Red blood cells, (ii) White blood cells and (iii) Platelets. Healthy stem cells are vital because they replace our supply of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
WHERE DO STEM CELLS COME FROM?
The cells used in stem cell transplants come from three main sources; (a) bone marrow (b) peripheral blood and (c) the umbilical cord blood of new born babies. Umbilical cord stem cells are collected when a baby is born and are stored for future use.
Months before the baby’s birth, the mother signs an agreement to donate umbilical cord blood when the baby is born.
At birth, the cord blood is collected and taken to cord blood bank, where it is processed and stored, under strictly controlled sterile conditions (slowly frozen to 1800C) they can then be stored at temperature below minus 1800C for up to 25 years. At the time of transplant the stem cells can be transformed to become any type of cell needed. These cells have the potential to treat almost any illness imaginable. With illnesses such as thalassemia and sickle cell anemia running within the UAE, stem cell collection has become a popular choice for many expectant parents within the area. If a child is born with thalassemia we cannot use his stem cells, however we can use the stem cells from the normal siblings umbilical cord at birth. Stem cells, collected from the umbilical cord blood have the potential to cure many life threatening diseased such as Leukemia and many heart related disorders, also Type-I diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson disease and breast cancer.
It is possible to preserve the cord blood cells for possible future use, should the baby contact an illness for which stem cells would affect a cure. The beauty of this procedure is that it is completely natural and we make use of something that is usually thrown away at birth.
There is no interference with the birthing process and the blood is drawn after the baby is born and the umbilical cord has been severed.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT CORD BLOOD COLLECTION?
Collection poses no risk to the mother or infant donor.
Banking eliminates the risk of donor unavailability at the time needed.
Banking shortens the interval between search initiation and donor cell acquisition, as compared to marrow collection.
Many companies enlist today who provide collection kits and facilities for cord blood processing, testing and storage.
WHAT DO WE THINK WE KNOW ABOUT STEM CELLS?
Stem cell transplantation may produce less rejection than marrow transplantation atleast in the sibling transplant situation. Also, it may be that certain unique types of cells exist only in umbilical cord blood with, unexplored value in treating disease.
Certainly, in light of this, when one considers the number of umbilical cords that are discarded every day as hospital waste, it seems ridiculous that scientists continue to unnecessarily search for stem cells from human embryos, especially where so many legal and moral issues have to be overcome, with the invention of new techniques for using these cells and the apparently suitable nature of umbilical cord stem cells for use in gene therapy.
Umbilical Cord Stem Cells are not only for your baby but because your baby’s cord blood stem cells are unique to your family, it may be valuable to your whole family in treating a variety of diseases. Studies have shown that stem cell transplants from a relative have a greater chance for success than transplants with stem cells from unrelated donors.
Thanks to scientific research in this field, we are constantly discovering more and more diseases and conditions that can be successfully treated with stem cells found in cord blood.
Dr. Hanaa Hosny Adly
Specialist OBS & GYNEC
GMC Hospital Fujairah