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Cord Blood - The Future of Medicine

Aug 17, 2007
If you remember your Biology classes, you would recall that cells are the building blocks that make up an organism. While most cells have a designated purpose (such as heart cells that merge to form the heart, or kidney cells that combine to form a kidney), there are others, such as stem cells that have the distinct capability to adjust and adapt to other cells to promote new and healthy growth along certain cells all through the body.

1. Treatment

The medicine obtained from these stem cells (or cellular medicines), can be used to repair or replace cells that are diseased or damaged. Specifically, stem cells can cure or treat the following:

- Red blood cell diseases
- White blood cell diseases
- Cancers
- Tissue (such as heart tissue)

There are various kinds of stem cells; the bone marrow is an example. However, the umbilical cord blood is considered the premier source of stem cells.

2. What Is Cord Blood?

Cord blood is the extra human blood left over following childbirth. Cord blood, from the umbilical cord and the placenta, is exceptional because of the abundant blood-forming stem cells that it contains and the advantages that it has over other types of stem cells.

- Cord blood is a rich source of stem cells
- Cord blood stem cells replicates more as compared with other types of stem cells
- Cord blood stem cells can be used to treat several diseases among children and adults
- Cord blood offers a definite match - there is no risk of rejection when you use your own blood
- Cord blood has a higher possibility of matching family members
- Cord blood offers a considerably lower chance of graft vs. host disease
- Studies in cell expansion technology are now being conducted to assess the possibility of allowing stem cells from a single cord blood unit to be used several times and for numerous family members

3. How Is Cord Blood Collected?

After the placenta and umbilical cord is separated from the newborn, they are placed in a disinfected supporting structure, the umbilical cord suspended through the support. The cord blood is then collected by gravity drainage that can yield as much as 99 mL (on average).

Once collected, the cord blood is taken to a cord blood bank where they are processed analyzed for infectious agents, as well as determining their tissue-type. The cord blood must meet the following standards before they are allowed to be stored:

- The cord blood must be of considerable amount
- The family health history must meet eligibility guidelines, and they must show no signs of infection or other possible problems

If the cord blood unit meets these standards, it is processed and depleted of red blood cells before being cryopreserved (that is, being frozen and stored in a liquid nitrogen freezer). The cord blood unit is then included on the cord blood bank's list, where it will be searched for a matching recipient and then transplanted. Studies are continuously being conducted to determine the storage life of cord blood, but initial reports show that a good cord blood can be stored up to ten years before it expires.

4. Costs

As of 2005, private cord blood banks charge prices ranging from $1290-$2000 for collection (which involves enrollment and processing) and around $95-$100 per year for storage of cord blood reserved for private use. On the other hand, there is no cost for donating cord blood - the cord blood bank will cover the cost of processing and storing the donated cord blood unit. But because cord blood banking is somewhat new, cord blood banks are available only in limited communities. In areas where they are not available, doctors (the OB/GYN) still charge a fee that ranges from $100-$250.

There are university hospitals and medical centers that offer programs where cord blood banking is free if you meet their eligibility requirements. This consists of having a child with a transplantable condition or a prenatal diagnosis that shows a high risk of having a transplantable condition.

4. Cord Blood Usage

When needed, the cryopreserved cord blood is defrosted and the cryoprotectant washed off, before it is injected through a vein of the patient. Studies show the potential of using the blood-forming cells from cord blood as a new method for treating patients with life-threatening diseases. Since 1988, they have been used for the treatment of various diseases and disorders, such as the following:

- Blood disorders (Anemia)
- Cancer (Lung cancer, Ovarian cancer, Brain tumor)
- Bone marrow failure syndromes (Leukemia)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Immunodeficiency (Severe combined immunodeficiency or SCID)
- Inborn errors of metabolism

At present, cord blood is utilized in the treatment of over 40 life-threatening diseases. There are, however, a lot of things that we still don't know yet, and research is still ongoing in the hopes of discovering them. There are also ethical considerations to consider, but far less than embryonic or fetal research.
About the Author
For more great cord blood related articles and resources check out http://www.cordbloodresources.com
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