In today’s post-pandemic times, as good health becomes everyone’s top priority, umbilical cord blood banking has emerged as the ultimate health assurance for you and your family. Your baby’s preserved cord blood stem cells can be used for the treatment of various diseases such as immune disorders, genetic disorders as well as certain cancers. This stem-cells-rich cord blood is a blessing especially for those patients suffering from diseases that require transplants. Don’t believe us? Read on to know more.
Properties Of Umbilical Cord Blood
The blood in your baby’s umbilical cord and placenta is commonly known as cord blood. This blood remains in the umbilical cord and placenta even after delivery, albeit for a short time, and is often discarded post-delivery. However, cord blood has been found to be rich in blood-producing (hematopoietic) stem cells. These stem cells have regenerative properties and have immense potential in disease treatment.
Stem cells, also referred to as the body’s master cells generate all other cells with different, specialized functions. Due to their regenerative properties, stem cells are often used to generate healthy cells to replace and repair damaged or diseased tissues. This ability of stem cells to grow into new tissues offers great potential for use in regenerative medicine and transplants3.
Apart from umbilical cord blood, stem cells are also found in the adult bone marrow and peripheral blood.
Adult Sources Of Stem Cells For Transplants - The Burden Of Finding The Right Match
For many years, peripheral blood (PB) and bone marrow (BM) stem cells have been used for transplantations by identical matching of human leukocyte-antigen (HLA) of sibling donors. When there is an identical or a close donor-recipient match, there is a higher chance of successful engraftment and reduced risk of potentially fatal graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). However, the possibility of finding an identical HLA-match of a sibling donor is only 25 - 30%. In the event where a close HLA-matching of a sibling donor isn’t established, an alternative is to seek an unrelated HLA-matched adult allogeneic donor outside the family.
Unfortunately, nearly 50% of all patients seeking stem cell transplants do not find a matching adult donor in a timely manner. And only around 30 - 40% of donor searches with positive outcomes result in unrelated donor stem cell transplants.
Ethnicity also plays a major role in finding the right donor-recipient match. Due to India’s diverse population, the chance of finding a genetically matched donor may range from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 1,000,000.
Benefits of an Umbilical Cord Blood Transplant
As the number of parents choosing to preserve their baby’s cord blood increases each year, so has the possibility of positive outcomes in close donor-recipient HLA matches for stem cell transplants. Clinical investigators around the globe now vouch for umbilical cord blood stem cells as an effective alternative to bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cells. For patients who are unable to find suitable donors, the rich hematopoietic cells of umbilical cord blood offer considerable advantages like -
- The relative ease of procurement
- Absence of risk to the donor
- Low likelihood of transmission of clinically important infections
- Low risk of graft-versus-host disease
- Increased availability of suitable donors
- Reduced morbidity and mortality often associated with BM and PB stem cell transplantation
In the beginning, cord blood stem cells transplant using allogeneic cord blood was performed on small children. It has, in the meantime, been proven that older children, adolescents, and adults can also be successfully transplanted with unrelated allogeneic cord blood.
With robust international accreditation programs requiring maintenance of high storage standards of cord blood units, the number of such highly-qualified stored cord blood units has increased worldwide. Thus enabling rapid access, high tolerance to HLA-mismatch, and an increase in the number of unrelated cord blood transplants.
Scope Of Cord Blood Transplants
Cord blood transplants are used in the treatment of various conditions including:
- Malignancies: cancers of the blood, e.g. Leukaemia, lymphoma, etc.
- Bone marrow failure: when the bone marrow doesn't produce the cells it should.
- Haemoglobinopathies: blood disorders, e.g. sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, etc.
- Immunodeficiencies: when the immune system doesn't work properly.
- Metabolic disorders: affect the breakdown of waste products in the body.
Although almost 80+ diseases are treatable with cord blood stem cells, around 97 percent of the precious umbilical cord blood continues to be discarded as medical waste following childbirth. To improve the availability of this precious commodity for medical and treatment purposes, there is a need for increased awareness of cord blood stem cell banking. Expectant parents should be made aware of the benefits of preserving their baby’s cord blood along with available options in regard to cord blood banking.