Modern medicine is truly amazing. Disorders and diseases that were once incurable, just a generation or so ago, are now being cured – or at least managed – in ways that couldn’t be comprehended a few years ago.
Cord blood banking is one of the most incredible advances in modern medicine, yet it’s something that’s still confusing to the masses. What is it, exactly, and can it really help your baby?
The truth is, it can help in more ways than you probably realized, and not just for your own baby. Cord blood stem cells from your baby can even have the ability to treat conditions in a sibling, or a complete stranger.
Cord blood banking is the process of saving your baby’s umbilical cord blood after birth. The stem cells in cord blood can grow into their own vital tissues and organs, which can help treat, currently, around 80 diseases and disorders, including some cancers.
If you bank your blood for your baby, most autologous disorders – or those that can be treated using one’s own cells, like a bone marrow transplant – are good candidates for treatment with cord blood cells.
So, if you’ve never given much thought to banking your baby’s cord blood, now may be a good time to give it some serious consideration. The best part is that your doctor can draw the blood immediately after birth, and no needles will ever even touch your baby.
All you have to do is pay a monthly or annual fee to a cord blood bank to store baby’s cord blood. In return, you get peace of mind for the future. You can’t put a price tag on that.
15 Impaired Muscle Coordination
Cerebral palsy is the term used for a variety of conditions that affect an individual’s muscle movement and coordination. Some people with cerebral palsy have milder forms that allow them to walk or use their arms close to a normal range, whereas others are confined to wheelchairs.
With 17 million people living with cerebral palsy worldwide, it’s the most common physical disability in children, occurring in about 1 in every 500 births. Although there is no known cure for cerebral palsy, regenerative therapies using baby’s cord blood are beginning to provide hope to those living with the condition.
After receiving their own cord blood stem cells, children with cerebral palsy often have significant improvements in their physical functions and cognitive abilities. More clinical research studies are in the works to determine just how far this type of treatment can bring those with cerebral palsy, and the outlook seems positive thus far.
14 Low Insulin Production
In the United States alone, about 13,000 children are diagnosed every year with Type I Diabetes, a scary disease that affects the way the body handles glucose. Glucose is important for fueling our bodies with energy, but when the body can’t handle it correctly, it can have devastating, and sometimes fatal, consequences.
Those with Type I Diabetes have to take insulin shots because their bodies don’t produce insulin properly. Where there’s no insulin, there’s no way for glucose to enter the cells like it needs to, and it stays in the bloodstream instead, causing a number of health issues.
Studies have been conducted on those with juvenile diabetes using their banked cord blood stem cells. Medical professionals are hopeful that the cells will replace the damaged cells that attack the pancreas and keep it from producing insulin properly. The treatments are still in the works, but the regenerative properties of stem cells make it a feasible option in the future for treating Type I Diabetes.
13 Neurodevelopment Disorders
With 1 in 68 children now being diagnosed with autism in the United States, people are searching for answers more than ever. The neurological disorder can affect everything from a child’s motor skills to social interaction to aggressive and dangerous behaviors. The disorder itself is still much a mystery to parents and medical professionals alike, but there are advances being made when it comes to cord blood stem cells as a possible managing therapy for the disorder.
Although stem cells likely won’t “treat” the disorder, they’re seen as a viable solution to help those with autism gain language skills and improved behaviors. The cells may be able to regenerate healthy immune system cells, since autism is thought to be affected by dysfunctional immune responses that can affect the development of the nervous system.
The study is still ongoing, and includes children on the spectrum between 2 and 7 years old with similar symptoms and behaviors.
12 Regeneration Of Hair Cells
Did you know that many of those with acquired hearing loss – or hearing loss that comes at some stage in life, rather than affecting a baby at birth – is often caused by damaged hair cells? The hair cells in the ears are amazing little things we don’t think about that turn vibrations into the sounds we hear. When they’re damaged in some way, either through aging, disease, or improper development, they no longer work to create sound, resulting in hearing loss or deafness.
Stem cells from cord blood are currently being used in clinical trials as a way to regenerate new hair cells to help those with acquired hearing loss. This could mean that people who currently need hearing aids or cochlear implants due to acquired hearing loss may, eventually, not need the devices to hear most sounds. Previous trials have already shown significant improvement in these individuals, especially on children younger than 25 months old.
11 Cancer Of The Nerve Cells
Neuroblastoma is the most common type of cancer in infants, with about 700 new cases diagnosed in the United States every year. This cancer forms a tumor in the neuroblasts, which are special nerve cells throughout the body. The cancer usually starts in the cells near the kidney, which in turn affects a variety of body processes, like heart rate and blood pressure. Often, the cancer then spreads to several other parts of the body, like the liver or bones.
Treatment for neuroblastoma is currently the #1 reason people use cord blood stem cell therapy. The stem cells from cord blood can be given to those with neuroblastoma to boost the immune system, effectively creating new, healthy cells that work to beat out the unhealthy cancerous cells.
Frances Everall, a 4 year old diagnosed with neuroblastoma, was given her own cord blood stem cells after a surgery to remove the cancer and rounds of chemotherapy. The stem cells rejuvenated her immune system and she went into remission before her 6th birthday.
10 Autoimmune Disease Of The Joints
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis to affect children. This arthritis can be extremely painful, limiting a child from a lot of things other children love to do, like dance, swim, or play sports. The condition causes stiff joints and swelling that leads to persistent joint pain, and can last anywhere from a few months to a lifetime.
This type of arthritis is caused by an immune system that attacks itself. A child’s immune system will go after the cells and tissues that would normally keep his joints healthy. This is where a child’s own cord blood stem cells can come into play.
Previously, those with very aggressive forms of the disease could undergo a bone marrow transplant, which is highly invasive and risky. Instead, researchers are placing emphasis on utilizing cord blood stem cells to help renew healthy cells and reduce the growth of self-attacking cells.
9 Cardiac Repairs
About 1 in every 100 babies are born with a congenital heart defect, which makes that number a staggering 40,000 per year in the United States. Although many repair themselves over time or don’t need any forms of treatment, others can be life-threatening for a small baby.
Fortunately, medical professionals have made huge strides in utilizing cord blood stem cells in cardiac surgeries, which certain heart conditions in babies make necessary. Since cord blood stem cells have the potential to renew healthy cells and repair damaged tissues and organs, advances are being made to use them as a therapy for cardiac repair patients to help repair a damaged heart.
Cardiac surgeries can be risky for any patient, but especially in one so young as an infant. Fortunately, treatment with one’s own cord blood stem cells offers an almost non-existent risk for an immune reaction like some other treatments have.
8 Cancer Of The Leukocytes
Hodgkin’s disease and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are two different forms of cancer with very similar symptoms. Their distinction is made using a biopsy of the cancer cells. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is much more common than Hodgkin’s disease, as the 6th most common cancer in the United States.
Both cancers originate in the lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that help the body build an efficient immune system. When these are compromised by cancer cells, the body’s immune system also becomes severely compromised, leaving a patient more at risk for developing other illnesses or diseases in addition to his cancer.
Using one’s cord blood, patients can have stem cell transplants, which will boost the patient’s immune system so doctors can use higher amounts of chemotherapy than usual. The cord blood stem cells then work to regenerate healthy cells in the bone marrow to counteract the cells that chemotherapy and radiation destroy, creating a more effective treatment for those with these cancers.
7 Immune-Attacking Virus
More than 2 million children in the world are living with HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus. The virus attacks the body’s immune system, making them more susceptible to contracting other illnesses. There is currently no cure for HIV, but there are treatments to help keep the virus suppressed and managed. If left untreated, it can turn into AIDS, which typically has only a 3-year survival rate.
However, there is a rare genetic mutation that can make one immune to HIV. One man with HIV, who was treated for leukemia in 2007, received a stem cell transplant from a donor with the mutation, which in turn left the man with undetectable levels of the HIV virus in his system.
Researchers are attempting to replicate this genetic mutation using one’s own stem cells from cord blood. If your child contracts the virus, his stem cells with the medically-created genetic mutation can help suppress the virus so that it will leave little to no symptoms and not turn into AIDS.
6 Distorted Red Blood Cells
Sickle cell anemia is a condition that affects the body’s ability to carry oxygen throughout the body. The condition causes red blood cells to form into a moon shape, rather than the perfect circle that healthy red blood cells do. The sickled cells become rigid and can easily get stuck inside of blood vessels, which can cause clotting, low blood flow, and decreased oxygen.
There’s not yet a cure for sickle cell anemia, which is caused by a genetic mutation. Most children do survive with the disease, but it can also create ongoing organ damage throughout a lifetime. Stem cell therapies have been used on those with sickle cell anemia, either from one’s own cord blood or from a donor’s.
Most stem cell transplants are successful in sickle cell anemia patients, causing a significant decrease in symptoms as the transplant works to create healthy red blood cells to carry on normal body functions.
5 Cancer Of The Blood Immune System
Leukemia is a cancer that affects the blood, usually creating an immune system with immature white blood cells in the blood and bone marrow. Leukemia currently accounts for about 1 in 3 of cancers affecting children and teens. Most children with leukemia have chronic illnesses, or get illnesses frequently, with almost no break in between.
Stem cell transplants using cord blood cells have proven to be effective in treating leukemia in children. The cord blood cells can come from one’s own blood or a donor’s. In fact, with this particular cancer, most doctors prefer to use a donor’s cord blood stem cells because they can actually be more effective than the child’s own stem cells.
The stem cells from the transplant will go on to form into red or white blood cells or platelets, therefore creating more healthy blood and white blood cells that will improve the overall health of the body as the child undergoes treatment. It can also boost the immune system to keep a child from contracting other illnesses during treatment.
4 Rare Genetic Disorder
Hunter syndrome is a rare genetic disorder caused by a defective or missing enzyme that normally breaks down complex molecules in the body. Without the functioning enzyme, the compounds build up to dangerous levels.
The disorder typically appears in boys, and is usually found around 2 to 4 years old, but sometimes as young as 18 months. The most common symptoms of Hunter syndrome includes an enlarged head (macrocephaly), broad nose, deep voice, stiff joints, stunted growth, and aggressive behaviors. Children with the disorder often have delayed milestones as well, like walking or language.
For Hunter syndrome, doctors have found success transplanting an unrelated donor’s cord blood stem cells in those with the disorder at a young age, before organs become drastically affected by the disorder. A transplant can help correct the enzyme deficiency in current cells by creating healthy cells with the proper amount of the enzyme to counteract some of the symptoms of the disorder.
3 Inflammatory Muscle Disease
Juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM) is a rare inflammatory disease that affects only 3 in 1 million children each year. The disease attacks the muscles, skin, and blood vessels, causing painful swelling, weakness, fatigue, difficulty swallowing, and more. Most cases begin when a child is between 1 and 5 years old, and girls are often more affected than boys.
JDM occurs when the body’s immune system incorrectly directs inflammation to muscles and blood vessels, thinking that it’s needed there when it’s not. As a result, these areas are prone to invasive rashes, severe weakness, pain, and damage.
A stem cell transplant of one’s own cord blood cells can help promote healthy cell production to support a healthier immune system, counteracting the cells that work to attack the body. Children with JDM can often see improved symptoms and little to no organ damage after stem cell treatments, giving them less pain and more mobility.
2 Stone Bone
Osteopetrosis, not to be confused with osteoporosis, is also known as “Stone Bone” because the genetic disease increases bone density to unhealthy levels. The syndrome is caused by the inability of osteoclasts to resorb bone and can be diagnosed in infancy through adulthood.
Even though those with the condition have dense bones, their bones are actually very weak and can break easily, since they don’t have the opportunity to form correctly. The condition can also become fatal when the skull is affected, not allowing the brain to grow properly and constricting the nerves. This can lead to other problems, like hearing loss, vision loss, or paralysis.
Successful cord blood transplants have been done on infants and children with osteopetrosis. In fact, stem cell therapy is currently the only therapy that can actually cure the condition, if successful, by allowing the body to produce new, functioning osteoclasts to help correctly form bones.
1 Curing A Sibling
As if all of the above isn’t enough to convince you to bank your baby’s cord blood – whether you bank it for your baby or to donate to someone else in need – maybe this will convince you. Your baby’s cord blood can also help treat his siblings from several conditions, if that need ever arose.
Although there are certain conditions that require an unrelated donor’s stem cells to be effective, a related donor can be perfect in other situations, like genetic conditions. Family members are usually the go-to people in the case of a genetic condition, making the treatment as much as twice as successful as those using stem cells from an unrelated donor.
Two full siblings have about a 25% chance of being a perfect match for each other for transplants. So, if you bank cord blood from each of your babies, they have a better chance of helping each other through a transplant in the future.
Sources: Babycenter.com, CordBlood.com, Cryo-Cell.com, KidsHealth.org, MayoClinic.org, ParentsGuideCordBlood.org, Viacord.com