How Can It Save Lives?

Stem Cells are a primitive type of cell found in all animals which offer a greater capability of both self renewal and differentiation into more specialized cells.  These capacities offer great intrinsic value to regenerative medicine.  

Umbilical Cord Blood, similar to bone marrow, is rich in stem cells, which are considered to be on the new frontier of medical research as a potentially life saving treatment for a variety of diseases.  Within the cord blood of new born children, are an abundance of Hematopoietic Progenitor Cells (HPCs).  The medical community believes that HPCs are effective in the treatment of a variety of blood disorders (such as leukemia, selected metabolic disorders and immunodeficiencies, and sickle cell anemia).  In recent years, more than 25,000 people have undergone some form of stem cell therapy in the United States alone.  It is becoming more common for these treatments to be performed using HPCs obtained from cord blood.

HPCs are designated as multipotent stem cells, due to their responsibility for the continual production of a diverse array of normal blood cells.  HPCs can only be used to reproduce blood cells and platelets, as this is their function within the human body.  Other sources of stem cells, such as amniotic fluid and embryonic stem cells are far more flexible for regenerative medical procedures, because they are able to differentiate into any of the over 200 cells which make up the human body.  However, due to ethical and legal objections, these types of stem cells are not currently in use for medical treatment at this time. Because of the potential for HPCs to reconstitute bone marrow and peripheral blood, they are being used to treat patients with bone marrow damage from either chemotherapy or underlying hematological failures.

While HPCs can be obtained from a variety of sources, including bone marrow, mobilized peripheral blood, and umbilical cord blood, the HPCs collected from cord blood have significant advantages over other types of HPC sources.  Among these advantages, are that immune cells from cord blood are less mature than those from adult bone marrow or peripheral blood, therefore their transplantation results in a lower risk of graft-versus-host disease, a common immune response to transplantation which can be fatal.  Moreover, HPCs from cord blood are readily available and carry a low potential risk for infectious disease transmission.  Furthermore, their use involves minimal risk to the mother and infant at the time of collection. 

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