Stem Cells

Stem cells, those white wisps of cells that separate during laboratory processing, have become the answer to over 45 diseases and are projected to be able to treat many more. More parents are considering the option of banking their newborn's umbilical cord blood as insurance against certain diseases, but it's hard to stay abreast of the scientific earful of information on the topic of cord blood banking. Let this be your resource when making that important decision.

To help make your decision, you should first familiarize yourself with the many concepts that lie behind cord blood banking.

What Are Stem Cells?

Literally, many cells in your body 'stem' from these primitive, undifferentiated stem cells. Stem cells have two characteristics that separate them from the other cells in your body:


    1. proliferation: stem cells have the ability to renew themselves over long periods of time through the process of cell division
    2. differentiation: originally, stem cells are unspecialized, mononuclear cells; under certain conditions that can be scientifically manipulated, a signal will coax the stem cell to become a specialized cell, such as an auditory hair cell or a pumping heart muscle cell.


More Information on Stem Cells

Those used in stem cells research primarily derive from two sources: there are embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.


    1. human embryonic stem cells: scientists use a donated human embryo that is no longer needed for in vitro fertilization (IVF) with the informed consent of the donor; the inner cell mass of the 4-day old embryo, or blastocyte, is then cultured in Petri dishes for approximately six months until they produce a 'cell line' containing millions of stem cells.
    2. adult stem cells: these are taken from mature tissue in 'adults'; your baby's umbilical cord blood also falls into the 'adult' stem cell category, and therefore scientists sometimes name this category 'somatic' stem cells. There are three tissues from which stem cells are usually harvested:


        1. umbilical cord blood
        2. bone marrow
        3. peripheral blood
      1. primitive: because cord blood stem cells are younger, they have more plasticity, meaning they can give rise to a greater variety of specialized cells. They have also been less affected by damaging environmental toxins that change the DNA, and so more likely are healthier cells. Lastly, because they are young, they can better integrate into the recipient patient and are less likely to cause graft vs. host disease (GvHD) or cell rejection.

      2. stem cell-rich: approximately one liter of umbilical cord blood is collected, and among that 1-2% of the mononuclear cells are stem cells. This makes cord blood one of the richest sources of stem cells. It is also easier to separate stem cells in cord blood. While adult stem cells can be found in numerous mature tissues, they are found in lesser quantities and are harder to locate.

      3. availability: cord blood banking means that it will always be immediately available, unlike other adult stem cell transplants such as bone marrow.

    What Sets Cord Blood Apart from Adult Stem Cells?

    Although umbilical cord blood is defined as adult or somatic stem cells, because it is younger in nature, there are several factors that make it unique.



    Why Are Stem Cells Important?

    Perhaps most importantly, stem cells make us. The inner mass of cells in the blastocyte is rich in stem cells-stem cells that will one day form a heart, lungs, muscle tissue, hair, etc.

    Stem cells are like the backbone of the immune system; they sit waiting for something to go wrong, and ten they jump into action. Stem cells found in bone marrow will differentiate into mature cells that make up the immune system. For example, stem cells reside in the skin's basal layer and at the base of follicles where they form a protective layer against cuts and infections. Brain stem cells help form nerve connections. In other words, stem cells throughout the body help regulate your health.


    Since 1998, stem cells have also been cultured and manipulated in order to treat diseases, such as leukemia. Scientists estimate that research will one day allow stem cells to be used to treat Diabetes, Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries, heart diseases and many other devastating diseases.


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