Umbilical Cord Blood Uses
Medical science continues to advance, with new techniques and technologies that help to fight off the disorders and diseases that would have been crippling or even lethal in the past. Vaccines, for example, now help the entire world to resist epidemics that would have otherwise infected children and adults alike. Medications can now help people with asthma to manage their conditions and live normal lives, with only the use of an inhaler as a lifestyle adjustment.
But medical advances have always been a mix of new technologies developed in the lab and discoveries of new existing substances and compounds that science has a better understanding of. Prosthetic limbs are an example of synthetic solutions built from the ground up in a lab. Umbilical cord blood, on the other hand, is the use of one of the oldest substances of all, directed to help people in new ways thanks to an increased understanding of medical science.
But what is umbilical cord blood, and how can it be used?
Not 100% Blood
While it is called “umbilical cord blood,” this is more a label of convenience than one of medical accuracy. Umbilical cord blood, or “cord blood” as it is more commonly referred to, is a mix of different liquids, although blood is one of those components.
When a woman becomes pregnant and grows a child within her uterus, the process of pregnancy starts as a single fertilized cell that then splits into two, then four, then eight, and so on. However, to keep dividing, these cells need “fuel” to grow. In a child who has already been born, this fuel would come in the form of food the child eats in order to break down nutrients for use in the body. This, however, is not possible at this early stage, since the cells have no mouth with which to eat, at least, not at first, and so the nutrients must come directly from the mother.
Once a fertilized egg has lodged itself in the uterus, the walls of the uterus transfuse the nutrients carried by the mother’s bloodstream not just to her own body, but to the cells that are growing into a baby in her womb. As the cells grow and specialize, eventually becoming eyes, ears, lungs, a brain, and a baby, that baby continues to depend entirely on food, oxygen, and even waste removal through the placenta. However, as the baby grows, it’s no longer possible for the entire collection of cells that is the baby to remain directly connected to the uterus as limbs form and growth continually occurs. The solution to this is the umbilical cord, a literal “lifeline” that carries everything the baby needs to grow, as well as transferring out the water materials, such as carbon dioxide or digested nutrients.
It is only when a baby is finally born that this umbilical cord is cut, and the infant becomes a self-sustaining organism that eats food through the mouth and breathes air through lungs.
The Value Of Stem Cells
Cord blood is now considered an incredibly valuable substance in medical science, and this is because of the greater understanding—and application—of stem cells. Stem cells are a very specific type of cell that is reproduced by the human body in huge numbers during the pregnancy phase, but the number—and quality—of stem cells drop off dramatically in humans after birth.
Stem cells have the nickname “master cells” because, unlike other cells in the human body, they are capable of becoming whatever cell is required. Under ordinary circumstances, if a person is injured and sustains a cut, for example, that cut heals because skin cells grow new skin cells to replace the damage. Skin cells are “locked” into only being able reproduce new skin cells. In the same way, hair can only reproduce more hair cells. A skin cell can’t grow a new nerve cell, and a hair cell can’t grow a new brain cell.
Because medical science is now in a position where stem cells can be harvested and used, much research is now being done on the various medical areas that stem cells can be usefully deployed. In the United States, however, the Food & Drug Administration, or FDA, has already medically approved the use of stem cells in one key area; treatment of blood cancer and related illnesses.
Of course, because stem cells can become any cell, the applications for it are extremely promising beyond just curing blood-related cancer disorders. Cerebral palsy is one condition which has been researched intensely for a possible cure. Autism, or ASD, is another area where stem cell therapy in other countries, such as Georgia, are already in effect, although the FDA still doesn’t approve the use of such treatments in the USA at this time.
However, the potential umbilical cord blood to be useful has already proven itself and will continue to grow in value in the years to come.