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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Bone marrow transplants – Good news

February 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Health, Medical Research & Studies


Finding a compatible bone marrow donor can be a heartbreaking process. Even if family and friends come forward they are not always an ideal match and the wait for the perfect donor can sometimes be longer than the time available to the patient.

Now there is good news from the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation which can effectively bypass the bone marrow route in appropriate cases by using a unit of mismatched blood from umbilical cords.

This work was presented by Duke University Medical Center who reported on a ten year study on children with malignant and genetic disorders, including leukaemia. Using cord blood for transplants offers some advantages over bone marrow because it is more widely available, has more immature cells, involves fewer complications, and donor match is not as important.

The study found that there was a four of six HLA matches of blood given to children and this meant low rates of failure and graft-related disease from the patient’s own body. Survival rates over one, three and ten years were also impressive for this type of patient, being 54.8%, 46.6%, and 43%, respectively which is comparable to those achieved with unmatched bone marrow transplants and substantially better than if the patients had not received transplants at all. In many cases the patients would have died without a transplant and although there was a failure rate in 6.7% of the patients, a slightly higher figure than the norm for bone marrow transplants, this is still low. Nor is that the end of the road for those patients as in many cases they can get a second transplant, something that is rarely available with bone marrow.

The time element is also an important factor and for patients who need an urgent transplant it could be a lifesaver. On average it takes two to three months for an unrelated bone marrow donor to become available and only about two weeks for an unrelated cord blood donor.

This breakthrough opens up the possibility of transplant to many more patients and although considered to be at a preliminary stage will make surgery available for those who previously were unable to find a matched donor.