Stem Cells

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What are Stem Cells?

What are Stem Cells?

A Stem Cell Is Like The Stem Of A Plant:
Here’s an easy way to understand stem cells. Imagine the stem of
a plant that grows, branching out into leaves, flowers and fruits.
On windy days, the branches can break. In some seasons the
leaves dry up and fall. Despite this wear and tear, the stem finds
a way to grow back to its original Self.
Similarly, stem cells are the very foundation of the human body.
Every part of our body including blood, bones, skin and muscles
are formed from master cells known as stem cells.
These stem cells have three important qualities:

Have the capacity to turn into any type of cell in the body such as muscle cell,
bone cell, blood cell, tissues and brain cell

Can replicate or copy themselves limitlessly



Are responsible for repair and regeneration functions in the


Owing to these qualities, stem cells are taking center stage in medicine today. Research
has proven that stem cells can be used in the treatment of many medical conditions. In
the past 50 years, over a million people have benefitted from the power of stem cells and
are now living a renewed life.
The human body has different sources of stem cells such as the bone marrow, tooth,
peripheral blood and the umbilical cord.
What is cord blood banking?

Cord blood banking involves collecting blood left in your newborn's umbilical cord and
placenta and storing it for future medical use. Cord blood contains potentially lifesaving
cells called stem cells. (The stem cells in cord blood are different from embryonic stem

For cord blood storage, you have two main options:

You can donate your baby's cord blood to a public cord blood bank for anyone
who needs it.

You can pay to store your baby's cord blood in a family cord blood bankfor your
family's use.

How is cord blood collected?
Cord blood is collected right after birth. The collection process is painless and safe for
you and your baby. In fact, it's so quick and painless that parents – caught up in holding
and bonding with their new baby – are often unaware it has even happened.
Here's how it's done:
Clamping and cutting the cord
After you've delivered your baby, whether vaginally or by c-section, the cord is clamped
and then cut in the usual way – either by your partner or your medical provider.
You can delay cord clamping, as long as the delay is brief – no more than a minute or
two. (If cord clamping is delayed too long, the blood in the cord will clot. And once the
blood clots, it's of no benefit to anyone – it doesn't go to your baby and can't be collected
for storage.)
Extracting the cord blood
Your medical provider then inserts a needle into the umbilical vein on the part of the cord
that's still attached to the placenta. The needle doesn't go anywhere near your baby.
The blood drains into a collection bag. Typically, 1 to 5 ounces are collected. The entire
process takes less than 10 minutes.
Off to the bank!
The blood is shipped to a cord blood bank, where it's tested, processed, and
cryopreserved (preserved by controlled freezing) for long-term storage if deemed
acceptable according to quality standards.
Some family cord blood banks now offer to collect a segment of the umbilical cord in
addition to the cord blood. Umbilical cord tissue contains stem cells that are different
from cord blood stem cells, and researchers are studying their possible use.

What are the benefits of cord blood banking?
Cord blood is a rich source of blood stem cells. Stem cells are the building blocks of the
blood and immune system. They have the ability to develop into other types of cells, so
they can help repair tissues, organs, and blood vessels and can be used to treat a host
of diseases.
Stem cells are also found in bone marrow, human embryos, fetal tissue, hair follicles,
baby teeth, fat, circulating blood, and muscle. Every part of the human body contains

some stem cells, but most are not a rich enough source to be harvested for therapeutic
In patients with conditions like leukemia, for instance, chemotherapy is often used to rid
their body of diseased cells so that normal blood cell production can be restored. Once
that happens, the disease goes into remission.
If the treatment fails or disease recurs, however, doctors often do a stem cell transplant.
A transfusion of stem cells from the bone marrow, peripheral blood (blood in the
bloodstream), or cord blood from a healthy donor can help create a new blood and
immune system, giving the patient a better chance of making a full recovery.
Unlike the stem cells in bone marrow or peripheral blood, stem cells in cord blood are
immature and haven't yet learned how to attack foreign substances. It's easier to match
transplant patients with cord blood than with other sources of stem cells because the
cord blood stem cells are less likely to reject the transfusion. This makes cord blood an
even more valuable resource for ethnic minorities, who have a harder time finding stem
cell matches.
Cord blood will soon be the dominant transplant source for United States' patients of
minority or mixed racial heritage. In 2012, 38 percent of Hispanic patients and 44
percent of African American patients undergoing stem cell transplants received cord
More and more adults are receiving cord blood transplants, too, sometimes involving two
cord blood donations if a single one doesn't contain enough cells.
As of the end of 2012, more than 33,900 cord blood units had been shipped for
transplants worldwide.

Which diseases can be treated with cord blood?
Cord blood stem cells have been used successfully to treat more than 70 different
diseases, including some cancers, blood disorders, and immune deficiencies. Among
these are leukemia, aplastic anemia, thalassemia, Hodgkin's disease, and nonHodgkin's lymphoma. (Cord blood stem cells have also been used to treat sickle cell
anemia, but that procedure is not yet on the FDA-approved list.)
Cord blood transplants are also used to treat rare metabolic disorders that would
otherwise be fatal for infants (Krabbe disease and Sanfilippo syndrome, for example).

Is it best to be treated with your own stem cells?
Not necessarily. It depends on the illness or condition being treated.
When doctors use stem cells to help the body repair itself, the patient's own cells are
ideal. There's no concern that his body will reject his own stem cells or react against
But when the body is making the wrong cells – for example, if the illness is cancer or a
genetic blood disorder – then the transplant must come from a donor, not the patient's
own cells. That's because the patient's stem cells probably carry the same defect that

caused the cancer or the genetic disease, and you'd be transplanting the seeds of the
disease back into the patient.

What else is cord blood used for?
Studies are under way around the world to explore new ways of using cord blood.
Cerebral palsy and autism
Children in clinical trials are being treated with their own cord blood for cerebral palsy, a
condition that afflicts about 1 in 300 children in the United States. Children in clinical
trials are also being treated with their own cord blood for autism, a condition that affects
1 in 88 children.
Hydrocephalus, type 1 diabetes, and more
Babies and young children in the United States are also being reinfused with their own
cord blood stem cells in clinical trials to develop therapies for hydrocephalus (fluid in the
brain), oxygen deprivation at birth, traumatic brain injury, type 1 (juvenile) diabetes, and
congenital heart defects that require surgery. If the clinical trials are successful, these
therapies may become commonly available within a few years.
Treatments for adults
Researchers believe that adult cancer patients may one day benefit from treatment from
their own cord blood stem cells that were collected at birth. The hope is that stem cells
will be useful for treating cancers that aren't genetically based.
Much of the promising stem cell research in adults that uses stem cells from bone
marrow may one day use stem cells from cord blood. Current studies registered with the
U.S. federal database are treating people with conditions as varied as diabetes, spinal
cord injuries, heart failure, stroke, and neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis.
A full list of the current clinical trials with cord blood is available on theDiseases
Treated page of the Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation website.
Your Baby's Cord Blood Stem Cells are a Potential Match for Other Family
Members Too

Your baby's cord blood cells are a perfect match for your baby. In technical terms, this
means that it is a perfect HLA [HOVER DEFINITION: Human leukocyte antigens (HLA)
are markers a doctor uses to match tissue and/or stem cells.] tissue type match.
Use of newborn stem cells will be determined by the treating physician who will consider
if they are applicable for the condition and should come from the patient or a suitable
donor. Biological parents will always be a partial match. Siblings from the same
biological parents have a 25% chance of being a perfect match and a 50% chance of
being a partial match.
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