It's no secret that umbilical cord blood contains potentially life-saving stem cells that can be used to treat a variety of conditions such as degenerative diseases, tissue injuries, blood disorders, and even certain cancers.
But scientists in Colombia claim that cord blood can also be used to repair an extremely common birth defect that affects around one in 700 babies: the cleft palate.
For the past ten years, researchers at the Hospital De San Jose in Bogota, Colombia have been trialling a new surgery, which uses blood from the umbilical cord to repair cleft palates in babies. A total of nine children have taken part in this study so far, and it has shown good results in attempts to grow a new bone from scratch, which is then used to repair palates.
One baby girl, in particular, was profiled in a case study published by the study's lead researchers in The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery. She was diagnosed in the womb with a missing section of the upper jaw bone, and immediately after birth, her cord blood was collected and frozen. For the first few months, the soft tissue in her jaw was remoulded using a device similar to a retainer, and at five months of age, she underwent surgery to correct her cleft lip.
At this time, stem cells were taken from the thawed cord blood that was collected at her birth, injected into the area where her jaw bone was missing and held in place with an absorbable pad. The stem cells were then left to grow.
Her results were incredible. According to the study, the girl grew new bone where the stem cells were injected and she was even able to grow normal teeth, after being followed up with at the age of five. Doctors said that incredibly, she may not need any surgery later in life.
"The potential regenerative power of the stem cell encouraged [us] to find new methods to be added to the classical surgical techniques and make possible better results [for] cleft patients," the study's authors wrote.
Essentially, stem cells are a type of cell that can change into another type of more specialized cell – such as bone, muscle or cartilage. They have the ability to naturally repair a wide range of injuries inside the body, and to date, they have been used to do everything from regrowing torn Achilles tendons, to repairing heart muscle.