Cord blood has an abundance of stem cells, and the medical use of these stem cells has been expanding at a rapid pace. Today, stem cell treatments and transplants have been performed more than 35,000 times around the globe to treat cancers (including lymphoma and leukemia), inherited metabolic disorders and much more. Cord blood is currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of more than 80 diseases. And that list is growing. Luckily for expecting parents, some of the best stem cells can be easily collected at the baby’s birth via the umbilical cord. This is why pregnancy is a great time to collect and bank a baby's cord blood.
Hematopoietic stem cells
Read more about the regenerative power of stem cells.
A stem cell has the potential to become one of many different cells.
Hematopoiesis (Greek “to make blood” and pronounced he-mah-toe-po-ee-sis) is the process by which our blood cells are formed. The stem cells that source this process are called hematopoietic stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells can become two catgories of cells: myeloid and lymphoid cells. Myeloid cells go on to form your red blood cells, platelets, and other cells of the blood. Lymphoid cells go on to become the B cells and T cells and are the basis for the immune system. Bone marrow and cord blood are rich in these hematopoietic stem cells and are often used in the treatment of a number of diseases or conditions involving the blood or immune system.
Cord blood versus bone marrow
Stems cells extracted from the umbilical cord blood have been shown to be more advantageous than those extracted from other sources such as bone marrow. In many ways, this is because stem cells from the umbilical cord can be considered naïve and immature compared to stem cells from other sources. Cord stem cells haven’t been exposed to disease or environmental pollutants. In this case, inexperience makes them stronger.
Most importantly, they are more accepting of foreign cells and 100% perfect match for the donor (baby). The closer the match between patient and donor, the less likely the patient will suffer from graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), which can be debilitating and, in some instances, fatal. The one big commonality between bone marrow and cord blood stem cells is that they both mostly comprise hematopoietic stem cells.
Here are some of the ways cord stem cells are better than other stem cells:
- Preserved cord stem cells are promptly available when needed.
- Bone marrow stem cells require an invasive, surgical procedure.
- Preserved cord stem cells are more tolerant of tissue mismatches and show a reduced incidence of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).
- Preserved cord stem cells have a decreased risk of transmissible viral infections.
- Preserved cord stem cells have the ability to cross the blood–brain barrier and differentiate into neurons and other brain cells, which may be instrumental in treating some brain disorders.
Cord tissue's stem cells
There are other stem cells that can be collected during the cord blood banking process. One type is found in the tissue surrounding the umbilical cord's vein and other vessels. Cord tissue, or Wharton’s jelly, is rich in mesenchymal (meh-sen-ki-mal) stem cells (MSCs). Mesenchymal stem cells can become a host of cells including those found in your nervous system, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, skin, bone, cartilage, and more. These stem cells are currently undergoing clinical trials for sports injuries, heart and kidney disease, ALS, wound healing and autoimmune disease.
Learn more about cord tissue banking.