Umbilical Cord Blood Harvesting—What & Why?
New advances in medical research and treatment have led to new techniques to help people battle various medical conditions. We no longer live in a world, for example, where rabies is a fatal, untreatable disease, vaccines are now available to cure this illness. In the same way, many of the conditions that were once thought to have no solutions, such as leukemia, a form of blood cancer, or even degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, are now getting their turn in the research spotlight, with emerging techniques that have promising results.
One of these techniques is known as stem cell therapy, and it’s a very promising area of ongoing research that has already proven its worth in some areas. Leukemia, lymphoma, and other forms of blood cancer are already being successfully treated with stem cell therapy and research on this technique continues for other conditions such as people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or others who have been injured and suffered neurological damage.
All of this, however, is highly dependent on umbilical cord blood harvesting, and here’s why.
The Problem Of Specialization
Under ordinary circumstances, the human body’s ability to regenerate itself from damage is very limited. Cuts and scrapes, for example, can be easily recovered from, as the blood clots and the skin eventually grows and heals. However, if a finger is amputated, that finger can’t grow back. If the heart is damaged, the heart muscles can’t heal from that damage.
Only a few components of the human body are capable of regenerating. Skin and hair the most common, but in these cases, all they can do is create more versions of themselves. Skin cells can never create lung cells. Then there are some parts of the body, like the heart, that have a fixed number of cells in them, and they will never heal or regenerate, which is why heart damage accumulates over time, as the heart can never grow new heart cells to replace damaged ones.
The Stem Cell Exception
The stem cell does not follow this rule. Stem cells have a property known as being “pluripotent.” This means they start out as “blank” cells that can rewrite themselves to be any cell in the human body. This is why, even though a fertilized egg starts as a single cell, it can eventually multiply, creating more and more stem cells that, once ready, eventually convert themselves into the eye, brain, heart, blood and other cells required to form a human being.
This is the basis of stem cell therapy. Even cells that are damaged beyond repair, or not correctly reproducing, such as cancerous blood cells, can be treated with stem cell therapy. By introducing stem cells into a problem area, the cells can acclimatize themselves and make replacements where it may not have been possible before.
A Problem Of Potency
The issue with stem cell therapy is one of potency. In a normal person, a less versatile version of stem cells is available. These are known as “multipotent” stem cells, and they can’t rewrite themselves into every cell in the human body, only those cells that belong to a “family” of cells. In the bone marrow, where red cells, white cells and platelets are created, it is these multipotent cells that can create themselves into whatever blood cells are required.
It is only when a baby is growing in a mother’s womb that the pluripotent stem cells are produced in the vast amounts required to create every organ in the human body. However, once a baby has been delivered from the womb, the baby is not capable of creating new pluripotent stem cells within, and the mother, no longer pregnant, also stops creating new stem cells to fuel baby development and growth.
The Need To Harvest
After birth, there is a surplus of unused pluripotent stem cells that remain in the placenta, amniotic fluids, and the umbilical cord, which is the vital point of exchange for nutrients and waste between a mother and child. The remain fluids in the umbilical cord are known as “cord blood” and provide a rich source of pluripotent stem cells.
This is where a family may, if they decide, have the cord blood harvested and stored away for future use. Stem cells, like organs, and blood, are not universally compatible. The child that was born from those stem cells, or a very close genetic relative, such as another sibling, can benefit from the full effect of stem cell therapy with these cells.
This is why, for parents that want to be proactive about having an effective form of treatment available, it’s often a good idea to request that cord blood be harvested and stored in a stem cell bank. It can mean, for example, that if a child is later diagnosed with ASD, that autism may be treated and some of the symptoms managed with stem cell therapy.