Umbilical cord stem cells: The gift of life
Dr Peter Hollands
19 June 2003
When a baby is born anywhere in the World there is quite rightly great joy at the new life it brings. New parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts all wish the new baby health, wealth and happiness. Foremost of all of those is health and we all wish that all children could remain in good health. Sadly this is not the case and some children will inevitably go on to develop serious life threatening diseases such as leukaemia and cancer. Many of these children will die simply because of the lack of a suitable bone marrow donor. There is a simple and effective solution to this problem and this is umbilical cord blood stem cell collection and storage.
When a baby is delivered, and the umbilical cord is cut, there is still a large amount of blood in the umbilical cord. This blood contains the life giving stem cells which could potentially one day save that baby?s life. Stem cells are cells that are capable of replacing diseased, damaged or simply old tissue. They are present in everyone on this planet and are responsible for replacing blood cells, skin and the lining of our digestive system on a daily basis. In the case of the umbilical cord blood the stem cells are in large numbers and they are capable of forming all of the cells of the blood system. Current research also shows that these cells can potentially repair damaged heart tissue following a heart attack. These cells are truly givers of life.
The collection of umbilical cord blood stem cells is very simple. Once the baby has been born, and the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut, it is simply a matter of putting a needle into the umbilical cord and allowing the blood to drain into a specially designed collection bag. The process takes no more than a 2-5 minutes, it does not require any special training and it does not interfere in any way with the birthing process or different birthing practices for example water births. The bag is then placed into a shipping container and can either be brought to the laboratory by the parent or sent via a courier. The blood sample does not need any special treatment, it is kept at room temperature and it is stable for up to 72 hours following collection. The collection of umbilical cord blood as described has no effect whatsoever on the baby or the mother.
On arrival at the laboratory the sample is carefully assessed and processed. This process enables the concentration of the life giving stem cells which are then frozen in liquid nitrogen. The stem cells are completely stable at this very low temperature and can be stored for many years. Samples of umbilical cord stem cells have now been frozen for 15 years and on thawing they are as good as the day they were frozen. If the cells are needed to treat a disease in the individual or a direct relative then the stem cells are released to the physician treating the individual precisely at the time they are needed. This means that there is no need to search for a suitable donor, a process which often fails or finds a donor when the disease is too far progressed for treatment.
In the USA umbilical cord blood stem cell storage is now common practice, public awareness in Canada must now be raised. These are extremely valuable cells which should not be wasted at birth but should be collected, stored and potentially used to treat a range of diseases.
For more information on umbilical cord blood stem cell storage please contact Cells for Life Ltd., 377, Church Street, Suite 201, Markham, Ontario, Canada L6B 1A1 Tel: 905 472 0060 or www.cellsforlife.on.ca or www.cellsforlife.com
Dr Peter Hollands is an academic from Cambridge UK and a world authority on stem cells. He is currently the Scientific Director of Cells for Life. Email: [email protected]
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