Cord Blood, Cord Tissue, and Placental Tissue Storage
If you or your partner is pregnant, you are probably considering storing your child’s umbilical cord blood. Some cord blood banks even offer the option to store umbilical cord and placental tissue along with cord blood. All three are excellent sources of stem cells that can potentially be used to treat a variety of diseases later on in the life of your child or a family member should the need arise. . However, each has its own unique benefits and not all of these tissues have been shown to be effective in yielding stem cells that can be used successfully.
A stem cell is an unspecialized cell. This means it has not yet developed the compliment of specialized structures that will enable it to perform a specific function in a specific tissue or organ. Stem cells are able to divide to form more stem cells, and stem cells can be induced into differentiating into the specialized cells that form a particular tissue or organ. Currently stem cell therapies are used to treat roughly 80 diseases, and researchers are working with stem cell therapies to develop treatment protocols for many other disorders.
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after the birth of a baby. It is collected right after the baby is delivered. The umbilical cord is clamped and then cut. The medical provider inserts a needle into the vein on the part of the umbilical cord that is still attached to the placenta and drains the blood into a special collection bag. The collection kit is then shipped to a cord blood bank where the blood is processed, cryopreserved, and stored. The collection process is quick, non-invasive, and painless for both mother and child. Cord blood contains stem cells called hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) which are the same type of stem cells that are found in bone marrow. HPCs differentiate to form blood cells and immune cells. They are used in stem cell therapies to treat blood and immune system diseases like leukemia, lymphoma, anemia, and certain autoimmune disorders. HPCs are also used to treat patients undergoing chemotherapy to replenish their blood supplies with healthy new cells. Cancer patients are also benefiting from a new therapy that uses HPCs to eliminate cancerous cells. In the “graft versus tumor” treatment of cancer, grafted HPCs differentiate into immune cells that attack and destroy cancer cells. Researchers are currently developing therapeutic uses of HPCs to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and lupus. HPCs obtained from cord blood hold several advantages over HPCs from bone marrow. HPCs from cord blood are not as mature as those found in bone marrow and are therefore less likely to be rejected. HPCs from cord blood are easier to match with a patient, and cord blood has become the primary source of HPCs for patients of minority or mixed-race ethnicities. Obtaining cord blood is a simple, painless procedure whereas extracting bone marrow is not.
Umbilical cord tissue is the substance that fills the umbilical cord surrounding its arteries and vein. It is collected after the cord blood has been collected. The medical provider cuts a section of the cord, washes it, and places it in a special collection vial. It is shipped to a cord blood bank where it is processed and cryopreserved for storage. Like cord blood, the collection of cord tissue is quick and painless for both mother and child. Umbilical cord tissue contains mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) which differ from the stem cells found in cord blood. MSCs are stem cells that develop into connective tissue like bone, cartilage, muscle, and fat. MSCs also have the potential to develop into nerve cells. The development of stem cell therapies using MSCs is one of the fastest growing areas of stem cell research. Although there are currently no approved standard stem cell therapies using MSCs, MSC therapies have been successfully used with the following patient populations:
- Improve cardiac function in patients recovering from heart attack
- Improve bone structure and function in patients with osteogenesis imperfecta and hypophosphatasia
- Regenerate cartilage in knees of patients with damaged cartilage
- Improve liver function in patients with cirrhosis
- Repair fistulae in patients with Crohn disease
- Improve renal function in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus
- Use in conjunction with HPCs to decrease rejection of bone marrow graft
Hundreds of clinical studies are currently investigating the use of MSC therapies to treat many neurological, cardiovascular, orthopedic and auto-immune disorders. Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cerebral palsy, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), spinal cord and brain injuries are just a few of the disorders being explored. MSCs could also play a role in the treatment of cancer. They have the ability to migrate toward cancer tumors so researchers are developing ways to use MSCs to transport anti-cancer genes to tumors. It is worth noting that umbilical cord tissue is the primary source of MSCs used in many of these studies. MSCs from cord tissue have several advantages over MSCs from other sources. They are able to develop into a wider range of specialized cells. Their cell membranes have a much lower incidence of the surface proteins that trigger the immune system to reject tissue. MSCs from cord tissue are also non-tumorigenic, meaning when used in a therapy they will not divide and specialize at a rate that produces tumors.
The placenta is the organ that connects a baby to its mother’s uterus. It allows nutrients, wastes, and gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) to pass between the baby and its mother. It is collected after the cord blood and umbilical cord tissue. The entire placenta is placed in a special container and shipped to a cord blood bank for processing, cryopreservation, and storage. Like umbilical cord tissue, placental tissue contains mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Also, like umbilical cord tissue, there are currently no approved standard stem cell therapies using placental tissue. Storing placental tissue increases the number of MSCs available for use later on in life.
Stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine offer the ability to repair or replace damaged tissue and organs. New advances are being made rapidly and the future is fast becoming now. Umbilical cord blood, umbilical cord tissue and placental tissue each offer a valuable source of stem cells that can be painlessly and easily obtained and stored for future use. Stem cells from these three sources also appear to have certain advantages over similar types of stem cells from other sources. It seems foolish not to seriously consider cryopreservation and storage following the birth of your child.
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Griffin, M. Banking Your Baby’s Cord Blood. http://webmd.com
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Wei X, Yang X, et al. Mesenchymal Stem Cells: A New Trend for Cell Therapy. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica. 2013; 34: 747-754