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What are stem cells?
A stem cell is a cell that has the ability to renew itself and differentiate into other kinds of cells. There are many types of stem cells, some of which are more valuable from a medical point of view than others. The most therapeutically valuable stem cells, called hematopoietic stem cells, are found in the greatest numbers in the cord blood of newborns. There are two primary reasons for preserving your newborn baby’s stem cells: (i) access to existing and emerging stem cell therapies if you or a family member needs them; and (ii) the promise of regenerative medicine. Stem cells have been used to treat over 80 serious diseases and have the potential to treat conditions that have no cure today.
How are stem cells used?
Stem cells are typically used in transplant medicine to reconstitute a patient’s blood and immune system after they have been treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation. In addition to destroying cancer cells, chemotherapy and radiation also destroy stem cells. Therefore, cancer patients require an infusion of stem cells or a stem cell transplant after chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments are finished. The stem cell infusion or transplant migrates to the patient’s bone marrow where the stem cells then multiply and reconstitute all of the cells to create a new blood and immune system for the patient.
What diseases are being treated with stem cells?
Stem cells are in use in medical therapies for more than 80 diseases and conditions, including some a child may be more susceptible to as a result of family medical history, such as leukemia and lymphoma. Stems cells can also be used to treat certain genetic diseases, including sickle cell anemia and thalassemia that are more common in particular ethnic populations. Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation is a standard treatment for certain diseases. For some it is the only therapy, for others it is employed when front-line therapies have failed or the disease is aggressive. Not all treatable diseases have been treated with hematopoietic stem cells from cord blood. Other sources of hematopoietic stem cells include the placenta, bone marrow and peripheral blood. Click here for a list of treatable diseases.
Are human clinical trials being done with stem cells?
Stem cell treatments have been shown beneficial but have not been adopted as standard therapy for a number of diseases. For some of these diseases, stem cell transplants only slow the progression of the disease, but do not produce a cure. For other diseases, stem cell treatments may offer a cure, but the optimum dosage and usage of the stem cells is still under investigation. In the United States, patients with these diagnoses can usually only get access to stem cell treatments if they are enrolled in a clinical trial. Click here for a list of diseases for which stem cell treatments have been shown to be beneficial and are currently in clinical trials.
Are experimental treatments being done with stem cells?
Yes, experimental treatments are the subject of research for diseases and conditions including Parkinson’s Disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s Disease and stroke recovery. Click here for a list of diseases for which stem cell treatments are the subject of ongoing research.
Can stem cells be used to treat adults?
Yes, stem cells can be used to treat adults. The problem is that adults, or any patient over approximately 65 pounds, require a larger volume of stem cells than is, on average, available from umbilical cord blood alone. This is why harvesting stem cells from cord blood in the placenta in addition to the umbilical cord blood is important. Later this year Americord will launch its proprietary product, CordAdvantage, which will harvest stem cells from cord blood in the placenta.
Can cord blood stem cells be multiplied?
For more than ten years, biotechnology companies and cord blood banks have been studying how to expandcord blood stem cells in a lab setting. Unfortunately, this has not yet been proven to be a reliable or viable therapeutic approach. When cultured, stem cells rapidly begin to differentiate into other tissue types, rather than multiplying into more stem cells.
Can stem cells from multiple donors be combined for use in a single transplant?
Finding two stem cell units that are a match for the patient is much more difficult than finding one. Using multiple cord blood transplants is another approach that has been studied for some time.
Who should save placental and umbilical cord blood stem cells?
While everyone should consider saving their newborn’s stem cells, some groups should give it even more consideration.
- Saving stem cells is a prudent choice if you or your spouse/partner have a family history of a disease that is treatable with stem cells, such as leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma.
- Ethnic minorities and families of mixed ethnicity should consider saving stem cells because these groups have greater difficulty finding stem cell donors when needed. Many genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia are more common in certain ethnic populations. Both of these diseases have been successfully treated with stem cells.
- Families preparing to adopt a newborn should consider saving stem cells since, if they are ever needed, the cord blood and placenta stem cells may be the only available genetic source of stem cells for the adopted baby. In addition, depending upon the terms of the adoption, complete family medical histories may not be available and stem cells might provide valuable medical information for the purposes of personalized medicine.
- Couples using fertility treatments that involve a donor egg and/or sperm should consider saving stem cells because this may be the only opportunity to secure a genetically related sample of stem cells for their child.
Should you save stem cells from each of your children?
Children are genetically unique and so are their stem cells. Saving stem cells for each child ensures an exact genetic match is available. In addition, it increases the likelihood of a useful match for other family members. Stem cells from a sibling’s umbilical and placental cord blood are up to twice as likely to be useful for a transplant as compared to stem cells from a sibling’s bone marrow. Even with identical twins, it is important to save as many stem cells as possible, and it is recommended that stem cells be collected from both babies. In general, the collection volume per baby in multiple births is smaller, so collecting placenta and cord blood stem cells for both babies helps ensure an adequate stem cell yield for transplantation if needed.
Who should save cord tissue and placenta tissue stem cells?
Parents-to-be who want to expand their baby’s options for future medical treatment should consider banking stem cells from their baby’s cord tissue and placenta tissue. The physical tissue of the umbilical cord and the physical tissue of the placenta (not to be confused with cord blood drained from the umbilical cord and placenta) contain mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). MSCs are a different type of stem cell than those collected from cord blood in the umbilical cord and placenta. While MSCs are not currently being used for medical therapies, they are the subject of over 200 clinical trials. Research has indicated that MSCs hold the promise of being able to someday treat debilitating conditions such as heart disease, type 1 diabetes, lung cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, and injuries to bones and cartilage.
What is the difference between cord blood and cord tissue?
The physical tissue of the umbilical cord, (not to be confused with the cord blood that is drained from the umbilical cord), contains mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). MSCs are a different type of stem cell than those that are collected from cord blood in the umbilical cord. The type of stem cells that exist in great numbers in cord blood are called hematopoietic stem cells.