Why Cord Blood Stem Cells?
Cord blood is not the only source of stem cells. Bone marrow, embryos and fetuses all contain types of stem cells, some more potent than others. But, unlike cord blood, all have their downfalls.
Sources of Stem Cells
Stem cells derived from embryos (embryonic stem cells) and fetuses (fetal stem cells) have regularly been in the news due to the controversy surrounding the issue. Yes, these stem cells are very powerful and have the potential to develop into almost any cell in the body, whether it be a brain cell, muscle cell, or blood cell.
However, because of where these stem cells originate, many people are uncomfortable with using them and feel that there are many ethical issues that need to be examined. As a result, use of embryonic stem cells and fetal stem cells is limited. Numerous countries have established or are in the process of placing restrictions on their use both in research and stem cell therapy.
Bone marrow is another source of stem cells and one that has been used in treatment for many years. Although bone marrow is helpful at treating some illnesses, like leukemia, it can be extremely difficult to find a suitable donor. Additionally, the process of bone marrow transplant can be a painful one for both donor and recipient.
Add to this the fact that adult stem cells (those derived from bone marrow) are more likely to have DNA abnormalities caused by normal environmental exposures, not to mention that they have already matured and therefore have fewer possibilities in terms of treatment, you can understand why scientists have looked for something a bit better.
Advantages of Cord Blood Banking
Aside from being easy to collect, cord blood stem cells have a number of other benefits over other sources of stem cells. Unlike fetal and embryonic stem cells, umbilical cord blood cells do not have the same controversy swirling around them.
Stem cells from the umbilical cord can be ethically collected and stored without any threat to you or your baby. Yet, these stem cells have almost as much ability to develop into other cells as do embryonic and fetal stem cells.
Compared to bone marrow, cord blood contains almost 10 times as many blood-producing cells, so less is needed for a successful transplant. Transplant recipients are less likely to reject a cord blood stem cell transplant than a bone marrow transplant.
Additionally, a cord blood stem cell match can be made on fewer criteria than with a bone marrow transplant, which means finding a life saving match is easier when using cord blood stem cells.
Too Good to be True?
While cord blood stem cells certainly have many benefits, can they really be the perfect cure? One of the biggest issues with stem cells from cord blood is the fact that one umbilical cord generally contains enough stem cells to treat a child or a small adult.
Previously, average-sized or larger adults were not thought to be able to benefit from this type of treatment. However, a handful of stem cell transplants have taken place over the last few years using umbilical cord stem cells from two different donors with positive results. This is encouraging news that shows just how adaptable cord blood cells are.
Another issue for many parents is deciding on the right type of cord blood banks for them. Some do not like the idea of their stem cells going to research while others want to know that their stem cells will be there when and if the time ever comes that they need them. Unfortunately, in this situation, there is no one right answer for everyone.
If you are pregnant and would like to bank your child's cord blood, then discuss with your partner which cord blood services are best for you. Whether you decide to go with donating cord blood or storing it in a private bank, know that your choice will help save someone's life.