What are stem cells? Learn all about it!

  • What are stem cells?

Stem cells are naïve, undifferentiated cells, that are able to divide and mature into specialised cell types. Stem cells are essential for the development, maintenance and renewal of all tissues and organs in the body. Thus, stem cells have huge potential for the treatment of various diseases and conditions, as they can facilitate regeneration of damaged tissues, and provide nourishment to other cells in the surrounding environment.

 

  • What is cord blood?

Cord blood refers to the blood remaining in the placenta and the attached umbilical cord following child birth. This blood is unlike normal, circulating peripheral blood, as it contains a rich population of valuable blood-forming stem cells that are worth saving in case they are needed in the future.

 

  • What is cord tissue?

Cord tissue refers to a section of the umbilical cord itself. The cells contained in this tissue are thought to have huge potential for regenerative therapies. These cells are different to cord blood stem cells and therefore, hold a different potential for tissue regeneration.

 

  • What is stem cell storage?

Stem cell storage refers to the collection, processing and cryopreservation of stem cells found in various tissue types. The most commonly stored stem cells are sourced from umbilical cord blood, or from the umbilical cord tissue itself. Although, stem cells can also be extracted and stored from other tissue types, for example, adipose tissue and dental pulp.

Cord blood and cord tissue stem cells can either be stored privately or publically. Stem cells donated to a public storage facility become part of a public reserve. Whereas, private storage facilities keep the stem cells in reserve for the use of you and your immediate family.

 

  • Why should I store my cord blood?

 If someone requires a haemopoietic stem cell transplant, their doctor will want to find a donor with the closest human leukocyte antigen (HLA) match possible. Identifying a HLA match is important when considering haemopoietic stem cell transplants, as some cells of the blood use HLAs to identify which cells belong to your body and which don’t. This is a very important component of the immune system. A close or full HLA match, significantly reduces the chance of developing graft vs host disease following transplantation.

It is not always easy or even possible to find a sufficient HLA match, especially because some HLA types are less common than others. Storing your baby’s cord blood means that you have easy access to a rich source of haemopoietic stem cells that are more likely to have a close HLA match to your immediate family. More specifically, siblings who have the same parents, have a 1 in 4 (25%) chance of being fully HLA matched.

Even if the HLA between immediate family members is not a complete match, umbilical cord blood can be transplanted into individuals who are only a 4/6 match to the donor. This is because umbilical cord blood is classed as a more ‘immunologically naïve’ source of haemopoietic stem cells in comparison to other haemopoietic stem cell sources.

 

  • Why should I store my cord tissue?

The cells which are found in cord tissue are believed to hold huge potential for future regenerative medicine treatments. This is because a population of cells in cord tissue have been identified as primitive mesenchymal stem cells. Mesenchymal stem cells can develop into many different tissue types, such as, bone, ligament, tendon, nerves and muscle (Harris, 2013). Therefore, these cells could potentially be applied to many conditions which are currently untreatable or treated ineffectively. Clinical trials are currently underway exploring the effects of mesenchymal stem cells in a wide range of conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, myocardial infarction and type 1 diabetes, as well as other degenerative, inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

Unlike cord blood cells, the cells found in cord tissue do not contain HLAs. Thus, there is no match requirement and the cord tissue you store will be readily available for the use of any of your immediate family members if needed.

Although the cells found in cord tissue seem to have a promising future, the tissue is usually discarded following child birth. At WideCells we want people to realise this potential and store their cord tissue, as there is no risk involved with collection.

 

  • Who can use the stored stem cells?

Depending on the condition, the stem cells that were obtained from your child, could potentially be used for that same child if needed. Storing your child’s cord blood stem cells can also provide protection for other siblings. There is a 1 in 4 chance of two siblings being a perfect match, and a 3 in 4 chance that the stored cord blood is a compatible, usable match for siblings. As well as this, the stored cord blood stem cells could potentially be suitable for the parents.

Cord tissue stem cells have no restriction in terms of who they can be used for. Therefore, if you store your baby’s cord tissue, it would be readily available for use by any member of your immediate family if needed.

 

  • Why should I store my umbilical cord blood when other sources of haemopoietic stemcells are potentially available?

Although haemopoietic stem cells can be derived elsewhere, through other methods, these sources are not readily available, and quite often, there is a waiting period before the transplant if a donor is found.

Umbilical cord blood is obtained through a completely pain-free and non-invasive procedure. It is a readily available source of haemopoietic stem cells and if it was not stored, it would be treated as a waste product. It makes sense to make use of it!

 

  • Can the umbilical cord blood from one of my children, be used for my other child(ren) or can they only be used for the child they were obtained from?

Haemopoietic stem cell transplants can either be autologous, meaning the transplant is derived by the same individual receiving the it, or it can be allogenic, meaning that the stem cells are derived from a different individual. This means that the cord blood you have stored of one of your children, can potentially be used to treat that same child, or one of their siblings. However, this does depend on the reason a transplant is needed, as sometimes an autologous transplant is acceptable, but in other cases, an allogenic transplant may be required.

 

  • What are the current and potential uses of cord blood and tissue stem cells?

Cord blood is currently used to treat over 80 diseases and disorders, including, blood borne cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma, solid tumours like neuroblastoma and anaemias like sickle cell anaemia.

There are also clinical trials in place investigating the benefits of cord blood transplantation in other conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy.

Cord tissue is not yet used clinically to treat any conditions. However, there are hundreds of clinical trials in place investigating the potential benefits of cord tissue cell transplants, including type 1 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, autism, spinal cord injury and many more.

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