The umbilical cord is a physical symbol of bonding between a newborn and its mother. Inside the womb, the umbilical cord serves as the passage of food for the foetus and is also a medium of emotional connect between the mother and the child. After childbirth, the usual practice is to cut it and dispose it off. But, recent developments in science have underlined the importance of preserving the umbilical cord. Scientists have discovered that these cords are sources of highly efficient stem cells, which can be used in the future to treat major ailments in children.
While stem cells can be extracted from other sources such as bone marrow, embryonic tissues, amniotic liquid and menstrual blood, the ones present in umbilical cords are easy to preserve. “The blood in the umbilical cord is rich in stem cells. So, it should be preserved at the time of childbirth,” says Chennai-based gynaecologist Dr Vijayalakshmi. Due to the persistent efforts of doctors, parents these days are aware of this process and are increasingly considering the option of stem cell banking. The process is not too expensive; hence most parents can afford it.
Dr Nandini Gokulakrishnan, Deputy Director and Head - Medical Services, NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute, Mumbai says, “Stem cell banking is like investing in an insurance policy. It might come in handy in treating major illnesses in the future. For this reason, more and more parents are choosing this.” Dr Uma Devi, Professor, Ragas Dental College and Hospitals
Chennai, who has been carrying out detailed research on stem cells, says, “The benefits of stem cells are truly amazing. They are used to repair the dead cells of retina in the eye. They are also used to help the regrowth of broken teeth.”
Mayur Abhaya of LifeCell International Pvt. Ltd, India’s first stem cell bank, says, “Nature has gifted each child with invaluable stem cells in the form of umbilical cords. This can help treat any disease the child may suffer from in the future. So, for a lifelong protection for their children against diseases, parents should consider stem cell banking seriously.”
Quick facts about stem cell banking:
- Parents who wish to opt for stem cell banking should pay a certain amount of money at the time of childbirth. The charges for reserving the stem cell range from Rs 40,000 to Rs 70,000.
- It takes 10 minutes to collect stem cells from the umbilical cord.
- Most big hospitals have this facility.
- There are also stem cell banks that sell stem cells obtained from donors at a fixed charge.
FAQs on stem cell banking:
1. How are stem cells preserved?
Stem cells acquired from the umbilical cord are preserved in the banks at -196°C if stored in the liquid phase or -156°C if stored in the vapour phase.
2. Who should choose stem cell banking?
Families who are prone to hereditary diseases should definitely choose it.
3. What are some diseases that can be cured using stem cells?
It is believed that stem cells can be used to activate any disabled organ. Stem cells are also considered to be effective in the treatment of diseases like cancer, arthritis and diabetes as well as heart ailments and neurological disorders.
4. For how long can stem cells be preserved?
They can be preserved for about 25 years.
While advancement in science and technology has given us a wonderful opportunity – in the form of stem cell banking – to safeguard our future generation from ailments, it’s up to us to make use of it. It’s important, however, that parents consult doctors before choosing to invest in stem cell banking.