Thanks to advances in medical science – particularly over the last 20 years or so – there are now many lifesaving and symptom controlling treatments available for a whole range of diseases and serious medical conditions that were previously virtually untreatable. Great progress has also been made in the prevention of stroke and heart attacks and the treatment of cancer. Researchers are working all the time to improve these existing methods and are striving to identify new ones.
Blood transfusions are an essential tool used in lifesaving situations, as are organ donations and procedures involving bone marrow transplant. The part that stem cells can play in the treatment of such patients has been found to be invaluable. In view of that fact there is now a way to save lives that is accessible to every mother, via a safe and painless five-minute routine at the time of her baby’s birth? The good news is that the technique of collecting, processing and storing umbilical cord blood now makes it possible for almost every expectant mother to be a lifesaver.
The importance of donating umbilical cord blood
Umbilical cord blood contains un-specialized cells – medical researchers have discovered that, when stimulated, these have the potential to become specialized stem cells with the attributes needed to form healthy body tissue, muscle or new blood cells. Instead of discarding the umbilical cord after birth along with the placenta, scientists established that if they collected the blood, processed, froze and stored it in an umbilical stem cell bank, it could be used later in the treatment of a growing number of serious conditions. Amongst others, these include, leukemia and other cancers. In the future it is hoped that other illnesses can also be treated in this way, including stroke, HIV and AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, to name a few.
A simple way to save a life
Although the process of draining the umbilical cord takes only a few minutes following the birth of the baby, there are a few things for the mother to do earlier in her pregnancy. She needs to check if her hospital works with a specific cord blood bank and to give her permission for the donation, complete a questionnaire about her health and allow a small blood sample to be checked in case of any infection. If all is well, then mom-to-be is set up to save a life when her new baby is born by donating the umbilical cord blood. There should be no concerns about the process to be undergone, and in case of any complication the health and safety of mother and baby is prioritized in all cases.
Donating umbilical cord blood to a public bank
There are two types of cord blood bank – private and public. Private banks store the donation specifically for the donor’s family. Whilst this offers a degree of reassurance in the event of a serious illness developing, there is very little likelihood of this, plus there are substantial fees for the family to pay the bank initially at the time of the donation, and then annually for continuing storage. An umbilical stem cell bank that is public, on the other hand, makes no charge for handling the donation and the cord blood can be made available to those in need of it, as long as it is a good match for the proposed recipient.
The beauty of using a public cord blood bank is that children with life-threatening illnesses, such as lymphoma and Sickle Cell Anemia can access stem cell donations that would otherwise not be available to them.