Every baby is connected to its mother via the umbilical cord, which is cut and discarded once the baby is born. But in recent times, the umbilical cord blood has been found to be a rich source of stem cells, which can become a lifesaver in the later years. These stem cells can divide, and each daughter cell can either remain a stem cell or become a more specialized one like a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.
As Dr Vijayalakshmi K, a gynaecologist from Chennai says, “The cord blood remains a great source of stem cells for therapy later, and so it is always advisable to store it.”
Apart from cord blood, other sources of stem cells include the bone marrow, the embryonic tissue, amniotic fluid and even menstrual blood. But doctors prefer stem cells from the cord blood as they are easier to obtain and store.
How banking helps
With many doctors recommending cord blood banking, most new parents are resorting to banking to secure their child’s future medical needs. Take the case of Lakshmi and Chandra Rao, a Visakhapatnam-based couple now living in the US, who have banked their second son Akshay’s cord blood.
When asked why she chose to bank, Lakshmi says, “Every parent wants to see her child grow up healthy. So when my family doctor told us about cord blood banking, I readily agreed to it”.
Since the procedure is fuss-free and requires only minimal capital, most parents don’t see a reason to say no. “In case of Akshay’s stem cells, there exists a 25% probability of them being a perfect match for our first child. Therefore, it may take care of our first child’s needs too later,” she adds.
Dr Uma Devi, Research Professor at the Department of Oral Pathology at Ragas Dental College, Chennai, does extensive research on stem cells, and is amazed at their potential. Highlighting a recent case, she explains how a patient with retina disintegration, where the cells of the retina slowly die, is planning stem cell therapy.
“This condition affects her eyesight, reducing it to a blurry vision. To restore her vision and to rebuild the retina cells, the doctors are planning to use stem cells,” she says.
Is stem cell therapy a big success?
Though stem cell therapy cannot boast of many success stories, the concept of banking is gaining popularity.
Dr Nandini Gokulachandran, Deputy Director, Head (Medical Services & Clinical Research), NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute, Mumbai, has an interesting take on it.
“Cord blood banking is like an insurance policy. I always hope that one never gets to use it. The potential of stem cells is promising and we can say that in the near future, we may achieve breakthroughs that will hopefully cure today’s incurable diseases,” she says.
When asked about the present scenario, Dr Gokulachandran sounds a little disappointed.
“Recently, a child came for treating spinal cord injury. Though theoretically stem cells had the potential to be used, they couldn’t be used. Even though the bank had stored the cord blood, it did not have the means or knowledge to effectively help in retrieving it for usage,” she says. Though this case highlights the lack of proper facilities at the bank, Dr Gokulachandran agrees that stem cell therapy will see a lot of changes happening.
The possibilities are such that even new teeth can be grown, thanks to stem cells!
“The hardest substances in our body are our teeth and even these can be grown. Theoretically, it is possible, but in practice we are striving to achieve it,” says Dr Uma Devi.
It is always advisable that you speak to your doctor before deciding to preserve your baby’s cord blood.
As Mayur Abhaya, MD & CEO, LifeCell, says, “Nature bestows every baby with a gift pack of precious stem cells in its umbilical cord that can protect the baby from several medical conditions. All it takes is a little parental help to preserve this resource, and gift the child a lifetime of protection.”
Banking cord blood is easy!
Confused about cord blood banking? Here’s what you should know:
- The banking involves a nominal fee charged during the time of delivery.
- Cord blood collection is completed in 10 minutes.
- You will be charged an annual storage fee, with the minimal fee ranging between `40,000-75,000, depending on the bank.
- Many reputed hospitals undertake storage responsibility.
- You can also store cord blood at LifeCell International in India, which has over 75,000 parents preserving their baby’s cord blood.
- You could also donate cord blood to a ‘public bank’ (like blood donation). Others, who do not have their own cord blood stored, can buy this from the bank, after appropriate testing. Usually public banks recover the costs of storage from the buyers and also deploy cord blood for research purposes.
How are stem cells stored?
When your baby is born, the umbilical cord blood and tissue will be collected and sent to the lab, where the samples are processed. The stem cells will be preserved at a temperature of minus 196°C.
Who should bank it?
Ideally, people with a family history of genetic disorders should bank their child’s cord blood. In general, everybody can go with the banking as it is like an insurance.
How long can cord blood be stored?
When stored properly, cord blood can be preserved for 25 years.
Which diseases/conditions can be treated by stem cells?
Stem cells have made it possible for researchers to explore regenerative medicine, which holds the promise of repairing or even replacing damaged or diseased organs. The diseases and conditions that can be treated include among others Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, burns, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis.
Who can use the stem cells of a person?
Stem cells can be used within a family provided there is a perfect match. In cases of stem cells of siblings, there is a 25% chance of matching.
(Adapted from Lifecell and www.nih.gov)