July has been Cord Blood Awareness Month, but honestly, I think any month of the year is a good time to think about, ask questions and consider the possibilities/potential/statistics of banking your baby's cord blood (the blood left in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby is born) as it's relevant whenever you're pregnant, and when the decision comes up.
I've written a bit about cord blood banking here and here, ever since I decided to bank my next baby's cord blood, and partner with Netcells. Since we're still in the awareness month, Dr Michelle Mason, medical director at Netcells, explains why cord blood is worth talking about.
1. Cord blood is full of stem cells, the building blocks of the human body
Stem cells hold extraordinary potential because they have two very special properties different to other cells in the body. First, they are unspecialised cells that can renew themselves through cell division.
In many tissues they create an internal repair system that replenishes other cells almost endlessly. Second, in a process known as differentiation, a stem cell can become a specialised cell such as a red blood cell, nerve cell, or even skin cell. Stem cells are at the centre of the emerging field of regenerative medicine.
2 Cord blood is used to treat over 80 life-threatening diseases including blood-related genetic disorders and cancers
Cord blood is rich in haematopoietic stem cells that become the red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and other immune cells which make up our blood. This means that cord blood can be used to regenerate bone marrow to treat a range of blood disorders and immune system conditions such as leukaemia, anaemia and auto-immune diseases.
3 Collecting cord blood is fast, easy and painless
Remember that the placenta and umbilical cord are thrown away following birth. Now, after a baby is born and before the placenta is delivered, the umbilical is clamped and cut as usual, and the gynae draws blood from the umbilical cord using a specialised kit. It takes approximately five minutes and does not interfere with the birth process in any way.
4 Cord blood is easily stored for future medical use
Stem cells are also found in bone marrow, but the process for collecting these cells is more complicated and it is painful for the donor. Stored stem cells are readily available for use and a perfect match for their owner. Searching for a bone marrow donor match is not always possible, the process takes time and it is extremely costly.
5 Cord blood and the stem cells it contains are at the centre of exciting advances in regenerative medicine
Exciting research is underway into using cord blood for emerging therapies to treat autism, cerebral palsy, type 1 diabetes and more. Umbilical cord tissue is also stored because it contains mesenchymal stem cells that can form a variety of cells including cartilage, nerve, bone, skin, tendons, ligaments and muscle.
These cells are being researched in clinical trials for uses including skin regeneration and grafts for burns and scars, nerve regeneration to treat multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, repairing bone, cartilage and heart muscle.
Umbilical cord stem cell banking is a form of medical insurance – hopefully the stem cells are never needed. But, regenerative therapies are an emerging, and extremely promising, area of medical science and as more therapies using stem cells are developed, the likelihood of their use increases.
Established in 2005, Netcells is Africa’s largest private stem cell bank, holding umbilical cord blood and tissue stem cells for almost 12,000 children. It is the only African stem cell storage facility to have international accreditation through the AABB (American Association of Blood Banks).
Netcells’ specialist consultants work with obstetricians, gynaecologists and paediatricians in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya. In South Africa, Netcells is a preferred provider of Discovery Health, the country’s largest medical insurer.
Netcells is part of the Next Biosciences group of companies which offers medical science biotechnology-led products and services from pre-conception to post-birth: semen cryopreservation, carrier screening, pre-implantation genetics, non-invasive prenatal screening (NIPT), stem cell banking and newborn screening.
Have any questions?
You ask, and Netcells will answer, so if you have any cord blood-related questions, please comment below and I'll pass them on.