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Birth & More | Birth Options

Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cell Storage

What are stem cells?

Stem Cells are the body’s master cells, which have the ability to differentiate and specialize into all cells that make up the human body (skin, tissue, blood, organs, muscle, bones, nerves etc).

Where are stem cells found?

After conception, a sperm and egg fuse to form on single human cell. This cell then begins to divide to form a group of cells known as stem cells as all the organs of the body will stem from them. These stem cells are classified as embryonic stem cells and research on these cells is what has made stem cells so controversial … the termination of a potential life to obtain stem cells in the interests of medical and scientific research. Netcells is not involved in any form of embroyonic stem cell research or therapies.

Stem cells are also abundant in the umbilical cord and placenta, which makes the collection of umbilical cord

blood at birth a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, free of moral, ethical or religious concerns considering that the umbilical cord and placenta would otherwise be discarded.

Stem cells are also found in adults in peripheral blood, bone marrow and adipose (fat) tissue. Stem cells are active in maintaining and repairing our tissues. Traditionally, bone marrow has been utilized for transplants in life-threatening illnesses such as leukaemia. The problem with a bone marrow donor, is that it is extremely difficult to find a suitable HLA-type match (1 in 40,000). There is also a risk of rejection even where a match is found.

Stem cells collected from the umbilical cord provide an exciting solution, considering they are autologous (from your own body) and there is no chance of rejection.

What illnesses can stem cells treat?

The main use so far has been for blood related diseases, such as blood cancer like leukaemia and lymphoma; blood disorders like aplastic anaemia, Thalassemia, sickle cell anaemia, Fanconi’s anemia; disorders of the immune system and metabolic disorders. Significant research is being undertaken worldwide in stem cell therapies, such as in the treatment of spinal cord injuries, heart tissue regeneration, corneal reconstruction, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, etc, although none of this is yet clinically proven or commercially available.

Who can use the stem cells?

Stem cells represent a perfect match for the baby whose cord blood stem cells have been collected. There is also an excellent possibility that the stem cells will be a suitable match for a sibling (1 in 4) or a parent (1 in 8). In fact, the majority of stem cell transplants to date have been used for siblings.

What are the chances of you needing the stem cells?

The chances of needing the stem cells are not high and hopefully you will never need them. With all the current research being undertaken, it is likely that retrievals will increase in the future, as more diseases become treatable through stem cell therapy.

Reasons to consider in deciding whether to store your baby’s stem cells

This is primarily a question of affordability and should be seen as an extra form of medical insurance.

However, you should strongly consider storage,

  • If your family has a history of certain diseases, especially hematological cancers and;
  • Families of ethnic minorities or mixed race marriages, who are seriously underrepresented in public banks.

Collection procedure

Parents are provided with a collection kit prior to the birth, which is taken to the bedside during delivery. After the birth, once the baby has been safely delivered, the physician clamps the umbilical cord (with the placenta in utero or delivered), places a needle into the umbilical cord vein and the blood is drained by gravity into a sterile collection bag. It is a completely painless procedure and only takes a couple of minutes.

The blood is then couriered in a special temperature controlled kit to the laboratory in Midrand, Gauteng. The laboratory complies with international accreditation guidelines of the American Association of Blood Banks.

On receipt, the laboratory processes the blood and the stem cells are separated out and cryogenically stored in bags in vapour liquid nitrogen at -196°C.

Cord Tissue Collection

The tissue of the umbilical cord can also be preserved. It has been documented that the jelly like substance, contained in the centre of the umbilical cord, is also rich in stem cells. These stem cells are known as Mesenchymal stem cells and are able to differentiate into many cells of the body (nerve, skin, blood, bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, skeleton, heart, kidney, endothelium, liver, and pancreas cells).Therefore, they are able to be used in the treatment of many different diseases.

A piece of about 15cm of umbilical cord is sent to the laboratory with the cord blood. The cord is processed and frozen, just like the cord blood, and will be kept for use at a later stage.

Article and images courtesy of Dr Yvonne Holt from Netcells

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