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Cord Blood Breakthroughs

By Kim Wilschek, RN, CCE

Cord Blood Breakthroughs

Stem cell science is rapidly changing. Scientists have created more than 80 stem cell therapies now in use with life-threatening diseases including some cancers, metabolic disorders and bone marrow failures.

This year, more than 50,000 stem cell transplants will occur. In almost half of those (40%), the stem cells will come from cord blood, says the American Cancer Society.

Stem Cells as Medicine

An emerging area of cord blood stem cell research is around regenerative medicine. Trials are now underway to test whether cord blood stem cells can actually repair damaged cells in two leading diseases affecting infants and children.

Researchers at Duke University are studying whether this therapy can help children with cerebral palsy, which affects 1 in 303 children in the US. At the University of Florida, researchers are coaxing stem cells to repair damaged cells in kids suffering with type 1 diabetes. Some 13,000 children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each year.

Cord tissue developments

Cord tissue is also being studied, which leads parents to ask if they should bank it. The cord itself is abundant in mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that can differentiate into different types of tissue.

While it’s hoped that these stem cells may hold treatments for type 1 diabetes, lung cancer, sports injuries, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and liver fibrosis, currently, none yet exist.

Banking your baby’s cord

Advantages to saving your baby’s cord tissue are similar to saving your baby’s cord blood; there is a higher likelihood of a “match” within your family.

Studies demonstrate that stem cell transplants are nearly twice as successful when the stem cells come from a family member rather than a non-relative.

To donate your baby’s cord products to a public bank, you need to contact a local bank by no later than the 34th week of your pregnancy, advises the CDC. Currently, public banks accept cord blood only (not tissue). Once donated, you can’t retrieve your baby’s cord blood, although if it passes screening at the bank, it will potentially benefit another person.

Each private cord blood bank has its own schedule of fees related to collecting and storing your baby’s cord blood. And how the cord products are processed differ from company to company.

Talk with your healthcare provider about what may be the best option for your family if this is something you want to consider for your baby or for the sake of another person.

Interested in cord blood banking?

Find a public bank at NationalCordBloodProgram.org.

Kim Wilschek, RN, CCE, is the owner of Chicago Pregnancy & Chicago CPR, and a childbirth educator at Edward Hospital and Swedish Covenant Hospital in Illinois

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