I am a first-time mum. I am advised to have my baby’s cord blood stored. What are the benefits of storing the cord blood?
A. Umbilical cord blood, once discarded as waste material, is now discovered to be a rich source of stem cells which are useful in the treatment of many diseases. It contains two types of stem cells, the hemopoietic stem cells and the mesenchymal stem cells.
Stem cells are unspecialised cells with 3 basic characteristics.
First, they renews themselves by producing identical daughter cells. Thus, they are able to maintain their own population throughout life.
Second, they are capable of changing into other types of cells in the body, e.g. they can differentiate into cartilage or bone cells.
Third, they may renew and regenerate tissues they populate. For example, blood-forming stem cells will constantly produce and replace all types of blood cells in an orderly manner.
Scientists have explored the vast potentials of stem cells of cord blood therapeutically by means of transplant.
About 80 life-threatening diseases in the past decades have since been treated with cord blood transplants and many clinical trials for other diseases are ongoing.
At present, cord blood has been used successfully in the treatment of certain blood disorders and cancers such as leukemia (cancer of white blood cells).
Some metabolic storage disorders and genetic diseases of the immune system may also benefit from stem cell transplants.
The advantages of storing the baby’s cord blood are as follows:
• Cord blood transplants may be needed for the baby or his/her family members later in life.
• There is only one chance to collect and bank the baby's cord blood at birth.
• The collection process is simple, painless, and harmless to the baby and mother.
• Patients who need bone marrow transplants may have problem finding a match. By using the baby’s cord stem cells, the odds of having a proper match for the baby or another family member improve.
• Future medical advances might allow stem cells to treat even more diseases and be used in more transplant cases than current medical practices.