Don’t let your baby’s umbilical cord go to waste

June 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Health, Medical Research & Studies

A tricky subject this: in some parts of the world, particularly China, the placenta and umbilical cord area as valuable health resources but in the West we are rather more squeamish and the subject of stem cell research and implementation is still open to debate. However that cord could save a life, so in my usual fashion I am giving you information, and what you do with it of course is entirely up to you.

Future Health Biobank, the UK’s leading private family cord blood and cord tissue bank, is sending out a message to alert parents to the potential of their baby’s umbilical cord and don’t automatically let it go to waste. The umbilical cord blood is the richest source of the body’s stem cells, the important building blocks of life. Their job is to multiply and transform into the cells that make up our blood, bones, tissues, tendons, organs – in fact everything that makes us physically what we are. They can build from scratch but they can also restore and repair as we grow and age. These vital cells are already being used to treat thousands of people for an ever increasing list of medical conditions – currently some 85 different blood and immune system disorders. In fact the use of stem cell transplants is now standard medical practice in many countries.

Up until now, the most common source of stem cells has been bone marrow, but umbilical cord blood and tissue are much richer sources as well asbeing a much simpler and less invasive way to obtain them. After birth and the delivery of the placenta the cord is simply clamped and the blood is collected along with approximately 15cm of cord tissue if both samples are required. The whole procedure takes less than ten minutes and is completely painless.

One of the disadvantages in the use of bone marrow is the difficulty in finding the perfect match but with umbilical cord stem cells there is a 100 per cent match for the baby and a high probability of a match with siblings, parents and perhaps even grandparents. For families with a history of cancers or many other diseases the availability of stem cells can be a life saving resource and scientists are now investigating ways to use the specialised stem cells in cord tissue which can differentiate into bone, cartilage, tendon or muscle and even nerve tissue. These stem cells also appear to have immunosuppressive properties and thus may be able to combat chronic inflammation.

If you think this is something you might want to do, then if the birth is going to take place at an NHS hospital which is linked to either the UK’s public cord blood bank or the Anthony Nolan Trust, then you can ask for the umbilical cord blood to be donated. However this is not nationally available so for the majority of parents-to-be the only realistic option is to consider a private collection , particularly if they wish to save the cord tissue as well as cord blood as this is not currently collected for the public bank.

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Stem cells created for 10 genetic disorders

It was reported back in November 2007 last year that research teams in Wisconsin and Japan had reprogrammed skin cells, and that the cells had behaved like stem cells in a series of lab tests. This new technique could lead to treatments for diseases including Parkinson’s and more developments keep coming in.

Just last week, Harvard team of scientists said they had reprogrammed skin cells from two elderly patients with ALS, (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) a degenerative motor neuron disease, and grew the reprogrammed skin cells into nerve cells.

Now, scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in the USA say they have created stems cells for 10 genetic disorders, which will allow researchers to watch the diseases develop in a lab dish and watch what goes right, and wrong. This early step, using a new technique, could help speed up efforts to find treatments for some of the most confounding ailments and was reported online Thursday in the journal Cell.

Dr. George Daley and his colleagues used ordinary skin cells and bone marrow from people with a variety of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Down syndrome to produce the stem cells. Like the previous research, this technique reprogrammed the cells, giving them the chameleon-like qualities of embryonic stem cells, which can morph into all kinds of tissue, such as heart, nerve and brain. As with embryonic stem cells, the hope is to speed medical research into the degenerative diseases for which there are currently no good treatments and, more importantly, no good animal models for the most part in studying them.