Cord blood is the blood that remains in the attached umbilical cord of newly born infants and the placenta directly after childbirth. This cord blood is the source of stem cells – the use of which has become controversial. Regardless of opposition to stem cell use, however, there is a sustained need to explore the possibilities that stem cell therapy offers. Though research on stem cells (particularly cord blood stem cells) is far from satisfactorily complete, the medical field and some of the general public already have an idea of the benefits of stem cells from cord blood.
Why Cord Blood Stem Cells are Special
The blood that comes from the umbilical cord is complete – it has all the elements found in whole blood. It contains red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma and platelets. It is also a rich source of hematopoietic stem cells which are multipotent stem cells with the capacity to differentiate into all blood cell types.
Hematopoietic stem cells are also found in bone marrow but there is a significant difference between the two in some aspects. First of all, cord blood contains less mature immune cells so that when they are used, there is less of a chance that the body will reject and attack transplanted cells and tissue. Moreover, cord blood (the source of cord blood stem cells) is both safe and easy to donate unlike bone marrow which requires donors to be anesthetized and puts them at risk of infection.
Diseases Treated with Cord Blood Stem Cells
The benefits of stem cells from cord blood are evident in successful treatments of several diseases that could not be cured solely with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Specifically, cord blood stem cells (because of their multipotent capacity as hematopoietic stem cells) have led to the cure of some patients afflicted with acute leukemia, chronic leukemia, high-risk solid tumors, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma as well as myelodysplasic syndrome.
Apart from the different types of cancer, there are also immune disorders which have been treated successfully with stem cell transplantation. Among these diseases are: chronic granulomatous disease, hystiocytic disorders, leukocyte adhesion deficiency, Wiskott – Aldrich syndrome and severe combined immunodeficiency diseases. Many patients suffering from these ailments responded positively to cord blood stem cells intervention.
In addition to the different cancer types and immune disorders, there are also metabolic disorders that have been treated with transplantation of cord blood stem cells. Many patients suffering from these metabolic disorders have received the benefits of stem cells. The metabolic disorders concerned are Krabbe Disease, Hurler Syndrome, Metachromatic Leukodystrophy and Sanfillipo Syndrome.
The Wave of the future
Research is currently being conducted on the possibility of finding a cure for autism, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy and juvenile diabetes. There is a positive outlook for research in these areas and work is being done to evaluate cord blood stem cells as potential treatment. A landmark clinical trial is being conducted in the use of a child’s own cord blood stem cells to improve language and behavior in autistic children. This FDA regulated clinical trial is being administered to children whose autism cannot be traced to genetics or brain injury. In the case of cerebral palsy occurring in children, the first FDA- regulated clinical trial is now being conducted using cord blood stem cell infusions. The work on cord blood stem cells as therapy for children suffering from Juvenile (type1) Diabetes is actually in Phase 2 now. The clinical trials seek to investigate the possibility of using a child’s own cord blood stem cells to prolong insulin production.
Many new avenues are being tried in the field of medical science to ascertain what treatments can be derived from cord blood stem cells. As these trials continue, there are many who wait hoping that the results will mean an end to debilitating diseases that as of now have no established cure.