What Is A Stem Cell Bank & Who Needs It?
Medical science continues to advance, and as it does, conditions and diseases once thought incurable, or even inevitably fatal, are now being challenged with new techniques and technologies. Rabies, for example, can now be cured with vaccines, some types of cancer that were once thought to have no chance of recovery from, such as leukemia, now have substantial chances of being treated, sometimes even permanently.
However, medical advances tend to come slowly. This is due to the extensive testing that often needs to be done, frequently over the course of years, to ensure that a treatment is not only viable for people but safe. One of those treatments draws on a resource known as stem cells, and there are currently “banks” available through which people can make use of stem cells. But who benefits from using stem cells, and why is there a need for a stem cell bank?
One of the most promising developments in medical research is the use of stem cells in treatments. Stem cells are a rare form of cell found in the human body, but at an earlier stage of life, this is far from the case. Upon conception, when an egg has been fertilized by sperm, it’s understood that an accelerated process of cellular replication begins that results in a fully-formed baby nine months later, complete with brain, lungs, hair, eyes and all the other organs required for life. But how does a single, fertilized cell go from not having any organs to being able to grow all of them?
The answer to this problem is stem cells, which are referred to as “pluripotent.” This means that they have within them the ability to become any cell that is “blueprinted” in DNA. This is a trait that most cells in the human body do not have after birth. In the case of cells like the skin, or hair, these cells reproduce in vast numbers, to heal or grow, but they are only capable of producing more copies of themselves. Some cells, like heart muscle, for example, never reproduce, which is why heart disease or any heart damage can be serious unless an equally serious solution—like a heart transplant—occurs since regeneration is impossible.
Stem cells do not have this problem. As they multiply and are introduced into different areas of the body, they can become any cell that might be required. However, this only applies to the pluripotent stem cells used during pregnancy. After a baby is born, no more new pluripotent stem cells are produced although less versatile multipotent stem cells continue to be manufactured in the body. Multipotent stem cells are cells that can grow into any form from the same “family” of cells, which is what happens in the case of blood cells created in the bone marrow from multipotent cells.
The Cord Blood Problem
This is where stem cell banks come in. If pluripotent stem cells are the most valuable and useful cells, then it makes sense that stem cells harvested from a pregnancy would be a viable way to collect them. “Cord blood” is the term used to describe the various amniotic fluids that remain in the umbilical cord after birth has occurred. This cord blood is a rich source of stem cells but doesn’t survive very long once removed from the environment of the human body, the same as blood, or any other fluids.
This means that to preserve the viability of cord blood, the pluripotent stem cells inside it, specialized, laboratory-grade storage is required. This is what a stem cell bank is, preparing cord blood for long term storage in controlled conditions that enforce the temperature, humidity and environmental integrity required for the stem cells to remain viable for decades.
Who Needs A Stem Cell Bank?
Stem cell therapy is a very recent form of treatment where stem cells are introduced into the body of someone with a medical condition, and this influx of new stem cells then creates new, healthy versions of cells to replace cells that are either damaged or no longer reproducing correctly. Stem cell therapy for the treatment of leukemia, and other types of blood cancer, such as lymphoma, are an example of extremely successful stem cell treatment. However, as with a blood transfusion, or an organ transplant, there is a question of compatibility for stem cells.
If a person is diagnosed with blood cancer, or if someone is diagnosed with ASD, or has suffered an injury with nerve damage, it’s possible that stem cell therapy can be a solution to help treat the condition. For anyone who’s parents took the time to store their cord blood in a stem cell bank, this means that there is a viable supply of 100% compatible stem cells that can be used in therapy. In other words, stem cell banks are a good safeguard for anyone that may require stem cell therapy in the future.