While doing some independent research about stem cells I came across an article which explained a new method for collecting them.
Once born, the infant no longer needs their umbilical cord and usually the cord is thrown away. However, the umbilical cord blood, which is blood that remains in the placenta and the cord after a baby is born, is being saved and used to collect viable stem cells. The blood from the umbilical cord is collected by using a syringe to remove the placenta through the umbilical cord once it has been removed from the newborn.
Stem cells that come from umbilical cord blood are fast becoming a vital resource in the medical field. It has been found that umbilical cord blood is rich in haematopoietic stem cells which are rare cells normally found in the bone marrow. Haematopoietic stem cells can make every type of cell in the blood – red cells, white cells and platelets. They are responsible for maintaining blood production throughout our lives. They have been used for many years in bone marrow transplants to treat blood diseases.
These stem cells can be used for transplants in patients who have leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and many other rare blood diseases. Although research has in this area is relatively new, researchers are extremely optimistic that these cells could possibly be used to treat heart disease, diabetes, cerebral palsy, autism and spinal cord damage in the near future.
Early studies have shown that umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants are less likely to be rejected than bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells. One theory that attempts to explain this states that the cells have not yet developed the features which can be recognized and attacked by immune system of the person receiving the transplant. Also, umbilical cord blood is lacking developed immune cells which means there is less chance that the transplanted cells will attack the recipient's body.
Researchers at Duke University are leading the way on this research and have begun a large clinical trial to determine whether cord blood cells can be used to treat autism. Another study by the university has claimed to have found evidence that regulatory T-cells from cord blood can prevent dangerous immune responses in people who are receiving organ transplants. If this is proven to be true, it could lead to the possibility of treating autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Though research is being done, the scientific community is still split about the use of umbilical cord stem cells, and whether or not they are effective. The research that has been done is relatively new and more research needs to be done to either disprove or reinforce the theory about the benefits of these stem cells. I found it very fascinating though that a practical use has possibly been found for something that was once discarded as trash not so long ago.