What is Cord blood and Why Would We Store It?

Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta. Some people may call it placenta blood or umbilical blood, depending upon where it is collected. However, the same kind of blood is gathered from either location. Parents might choose to store their infant’s cord blood in case it is ever needed for the treatment of disease or injury.

Cord blood can be used to treat illnesses like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cirrhosis, metabolic disorders, and many more. As of 2006, an estimated 70 diseases have been known to have been healed by cord blood, according to Michael Bellomo in his book, “The Stem Cell Divide,” published the same year.

It’s a Special Kind of  Bank

Cord blood can be stored in a cord-blood bank and preserved with the use of liquid nitrogen. When needed to treat a disease, it is thawed and grown in a glass disc or tube. Only a small portion of the stock of blood is needed. Other portions may be reserved for the treatment of other unpredicted injuries like broken bone or spinal cord.

Cord blood can be grown by cloning and injected into a person afflicted with leukemia, diabetes, or other degenerative diseases. One cell duplicates itself and the resulting daughter cells are identical to the mother cell.

There are two ways of harvesting cord blood stem cells. In one way, the cord blood is gathered before the umbilical cord is cut to deliver the baby and before the placenta leaves the womb. In another way,  it is harvested when the placenta had been delivered with the umbilical cord hanging from a support (Bellomo, M. The Stem Cell Divide. 2006:171).

The cord blood contains large quantities of multipotent stem cells.  This has important implications in the treating or healing of diseases. Multipotent stem cells can differentiate into unipotent stems cells that can differentiate into adult stem cells.

To recall, the development of a human being proceeds from totipotent stem cells, to pluripotent stem cells, to multipotent stem cells, to unipotent stem cells, to adult stem cells, finally to adult cells. This progress only occurs in one direction; it does not reverse itself naturally. However, this can be reversed by reprogramming, as now demonstrated by research. For example, adult cells can be reprogrammed to pluripotent stem cells.

Adult stem cells are in varying levels of multipotency and unipotency. They can develop into: 1. brain cells, 2. bone marrow cells, 3. digestive system cells, 4. endothelial cells (found in the lining of arteries and veins), 5. skin cells, 6. skeletal muscle cells, 7. pancreas cells, 8. liver cells. (Read another StemCell101.com article entitled “What Is a Stem Cell?” for more background information).

What does a multipotent or unipotent stem cell mean in terms of treatment of disease? In the development of the fetus in the womb, they differentiate into the above adult cells. Any defect in those adult cells of the baby or adult human being can be repaired by the multipotent and unipotent cells.

 

Stem cells in treatment

This is an example of where the miracle of stem cells begins to make a real difference. In diabetes type 1, unipotent stem cells can regrow the beta cells of the pancreas that secrete insulin. These beta cells might have been damaged by free radicals and reactive oxygen in a person at an early age, which resulted in inadequate production of insulin or no production of insulin at all. The American Diabetes Association says that the beta cells of the pancreas lack adequate protection against oxidants like free radicals.

The cord blood has multipotent stem cells called hematopoietic stem cells. These produce blood cells, namely: red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells. That is why cord blood stem cells can cure leukemia or cancer of white blood cells (Bellomo, M. Stem Cell Divide. 2006).

 

No or Low Levels of Rejection

Cord blood stem cells applied on its biological owner are not rejected, and cord blood stem cells applied on relatives of the owner have a low level of rejection. In fact, when given to a person who is not related to the owner but matches the blood type and other issues of the recipient, the cord blood stem cells also show a low level of rejection. And fortunately, even this minimal rejection can be remedied with the administration of a suppressant.

 

It’s Better Than Money In the Bank

With all the advantages, you can see why this process is becoming more and more popular. It appears that it really pays to deposit cord blood into a cord-blood bank. JJ

 

Conrado Fontanilla
Conrado has an extensive background in science. He has specialized in bridging the gap between scientists and consumers. He started out in agriculture, forestry and environment. Then he branched out into medical journalism owing to his desire to control his heart disease. In the present decade interest in stem cell research has emerged, stirring ethical issues around the use of embryonic stem cells. In 2006, it was discovered that adult cells like skin can be reprogrammed back to embryonic stem cells. Now, there is no more need to utilize an embryo as the source for stem cells. Recently it was found that nutritional supplements constitute a method in stem cell therapy. Conrado has contributed to the development of stem cell-organism theory and its application in medicine, particularly regenerative medicine.