On the day you deliver your baby, you'll probably be overcome with visions of the future with your child
Those first smiles and steps, birthday parties and sports events, and holidays and life milestones. Your baby ever becoming seriously ill will probably be the last thing on your mind.But some parents do consider the possibility that a serious illness might someday affect their child - and they make a choice that might impact the future health of that child or even their other children. They're deciding to bank their newborn's cord blood.
So, what is cord-blood banking, and is it right for you?
Umbilical Cord Blood Banking
Stem cells are known as 'naive' cells, this means they can change into many different kinds of cells found in the body. Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can pretty much divide without limit to replace other cells. When a stem cell divides, each new cell can either stay as a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specific function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, even a brain cell, in fact any cell found in the human body.
Where are stem cells found?
The richest source of stem cells is umbilical cord blood. It is these properties and the fact that the umbilical cord is such a rich source of stem cells that has prompted many parents to save their children's cord blood to potentially treat or prevent injury, disease, and other medical conditions now and in the future. These life-giving properties have prompted a number of private companies to offer frozen storage of these cells from umbilical cord blood collected at birth.
Other sources of stem cells include human embryos and bone marrow. Much controversy surrounds the use of embryonic stem cells which are derived from surplus and specifically created embryos. Bone marrow extraction is an invasive process and requires a matching donor to be located. For mixed-race patients, this can be particularly difficult. The benefit of keeping your own child's umbilical cord blood stem cells is that the process is safe, painless and most importantly comes from a source that would otherwise be lost.
How are they collected?
Once your baby has been born and after the placenta has been delivered and the umbilical cord cut, your trained healthcare professional can collect the blood from the umbilical cord for storage. The collection process is safe, easy and painless for both mother and baby, and doesn't interfere with the delivery or aftercare of the mother or baby. The blood is then taken to a lab for processing, before being cryogenically frozen. This allows the protection and storage of the stem cells for many years, ready for use at any time in the future should your child need them.
In the UK the collection, transport, storage and testing of umbilical cord blood is regulated by the HTA (www.hta.gov.uk). Any establishments involved in any of these activities should be licensed or have suitable agreements with the licensed party. The consent of the mother is required as part of this legislation as are certain mandatory tests
What are stem cells used for?
Stem cell transplants have been available since the first bone marrow transplant, which took place in France in 1988. Since then, umbilical cord blood has emerged as a rich and viable new source of treatment for a variety of blood disorders. With thousands of transplants carried out worldwide, it is now considered a proven treatment for many conditions including leukaemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Stem cells are frequently used after a course of chemotherapy to help regenerate the body's immune system.
Ongoing research using umbilical cord blood stem cells has shown potential use in treating over 70 different medical conditions. Encouraging results have been found in the treatment of a wide variety of different medical conditions including cancer, bone fractures, burns, strokes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, Huntingdon disease, diabetes and many more. Just imagine the possibilities in ten or twenty years. New research into stem cell use is already showing encouraging outcomes, in such fields as regenerating organs, repairing damaged muscle tissue and tendons, and helping create skin grafts for burns' victims.
The storage of stem cells can be priceless in certain high risk cases, such as where there is a known hereditary disease within the family that is treatable by stem cell transplantation. It's the future therapeutic possibilities of stem cells, as well as the already known treatable conditions, that has motivated the thousands of parents that have already taken up this service in the UK.
The storage of a baby's umbilical cord blood is a once in a lifetime opportunity to save these precious cells that could offer the gift of health or even life in some cases.
The world is your child's oyster and the future could hold anything. As they get older, your ability to protect them and their health lessens. Although you may not be able to protect them for the rest of their lives, you can give them the best possible start. By storing their stem cells now, you would be giving your child a further assurance for their health which can last a lifetime.