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Moving Forward with Umbilical Cord Stem Cells

By Anne Geggis, Daytona Beach News Journal, March 18, 2007

Amber had to take every single available test during her first pregnancy because her husband was so worried, tests that mothers her age should never even worry about.

When their daughter Emma was born, they learned that her umbilical cord blood could be preserved and used later to treat diseases that are every parentís worst fear. 28-year-old Amber didnít hesitate to take the step to ensure that they would have this biological insurance, and had the cord blood banked.

For the treatment of diseases such as muscular dystrophy and Alzheimerís, cord blood stem cells could hold phenomenal potential say researchers. Umbilical cord blood banking is currently a growing industry world wide.

After seeing a list of diseases that cord blood stem cells may some day routinely treat, Amber, who is a Daytona Beach paralegal, singed up for a banking program in another state. The entire process cost her $3,200 with another $125 annually as a storage fee.

Muscular dystrophy is a condition that has consistently skipped a generation in Amberís family, and is one of the conditions that cord blood stem cells can potentially treat. She could not bear the thought of her baby suffering through this condition after recalling an uncle who died fairly young, with a feeding tube down his throat and strapped to a breathing machine.

"If I hadn't done it," she said, "and something happened to her, I wouldn't have forgiven myself."

For diseases in both children and adults, umbilical cord blood transplants are beginning to look more attractive and are being selected earlier than before as a method of treatment.

While bone marrow transplants require a the donor to go through a painful and time consuming procedure, umbilical cord collection only takes a few minutes and is non-invasive.

The cells are more adaptable to recipients outside the donorsí family as well. They are easier to use on unrelated donors since they match more individuals than bone marrow stem cells.

The number of people who are actually opting to store their umbilical cord blood still remains fairly low according to the birthing units in local hospitals. What seems to be gaining more traction is the public donation aspect.

In November, a partnership was formed that provides staff to process public umbilical cord stem cell donation. The deal involves the third-largest birthing center in the nation, The Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando. Also looking into the possibility of storing cord blood for public donation is Floridaís Blood Centers.

ďIt hasnít hasn't been easy to explain to people why they should go to the trouble,Ē said Dr. Mary, who is a professor and chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Massachusetts.

About one-third to one-half of her caseload is donating she said. She has a good estimate of the numbers since preparation to donate have to made a few week prior to delivery.

"It needs to be part of the routine that we do with prenatal care," Dr. Mary said. "It includes mom remembering to call the person to sign up. We're getting there. It's going to continue to grow as people become more aware of it."

Hope and demand for private storage could increase as awareness grows. Dr. Gary who is an Ormond Beach obstetrician, decided that during his fourth childís delivery on January 12th that the cord blood would be saved. The future potential was enough to save this experienced doctor/father. Convincing him to make the investment was hearing and learning about the ability that umbilical cord stem cells have to travel to damaged tissue and regenerate it in experiments.

"This is phenomenal," he said. "If I get Alzheimer's in a few decades, this could be what helps me."


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