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5. Alzheimer’s disease. Likewise, embryonic stem cells may come in handy against Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive and deadly disorder that degrades and kills brain cells, leading to memory loss, cognitive decline, and behavioral problems. Stem cells may give rise to new treatments or even, some say, a cure; other experts have expressed skepticism.
Bunin N, Aplenc R, Iannone R, et al. Unrelated donor bone marrow transplantation for children with severe aplastic anemia: minimal GVHD and durable engraftment with partial T cell depletion. Bone Marrow Transplant.2005;35 :369– 373
Private cord blood banking can benefit those with a strong family history of certain diseases that harm the blood and immune system, such as leukemia and some cancers, sickle-cell anemia, and some metabolic disorders. Parents who already have a child (in a household with biological siblings) who is sick with one of these diseases have the greatest chance of finding a match with their baby’s cord blood. Parents who have a family history of autism, Alzheimer’s, and type 1 diabetes can benefit from cord blood. Although these diseases aren’t currently treated with umbilical cord steam cells, researchers are exploring ways to treat them (and many more) with cord blood.
Cord blood can’t be used to treat everything. If your child is born with a genetic condition such as muscular dystrophy or spina bifida, then the stem cells would have that condition, says Dr. Kurtzberg. But if the cord blood donor is healthy and there is a sibling or another immediate family member who has a genetic condition, the cord blood could be a good match for them.
Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, established in 1998, is one of the largest public cord blood banks. It’s affiliated with Duke University, where trials are currently taking place to treat children with cerebral palsy with their own cord blood. Parents can mail in their cord blood donations and receive financial aid if they have a sick older child or family member who can be treated with cord blood.
Private (commercial) cord banks will store the donated blood for use by the donor and family members only. They can be expensive. These banks charge a fee for processing and an annual fee for storage.
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Cord blood has been used for 20 years to treat more than 80 serious diseases.34 Successful treatments have paved the way for further research and today, FDA-regulated clinical trials are exploring the use of a child’s own stem cells for conditions that currently have no cure.
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10. Organ failure. What better way to ease the shortage of organs for transplantation than to grow new ones? That’s what some scientists think, and with stem cells, that vision may become more than a pipe dream. Last year, researchers grew a beating rat heart in the lab with the help of heart cells from newborn rats, preliminary proof of the concept.
Today, many conditions may be treatable with cord blood as part of a stem cell transplant, including various cancers and blood, immune, and metabolic disorders. Preserving these cells now may provide your family potential treatment options in the future.
For much of pregnancy, the umbilical cord is the lifeline of a fetus, tethering it to the placenta. Snaking through the nearly 2-feet-long cord, there’s a vein ferrying nutrients and oxygen from mom’s blood (via the placenta), plus two arteries carrying oxygen- and nutrient-depleted blood from the fetus back to mom. Because mother’s blood and fetal blood don’t actually mix much, the blood in the placenta and umbilical cord at birth belongs mainly to the fetus.
These are diseases for which transplants of blood-forming stem cells (Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplants, HSCT) are a standard treatment. For some diseases they are the only therapy, and in other diseases they are only employed when front-line therapies have failed or the disease is very aggressive. The lists below include ALL therapies that use blood-forming stem cells, without distinction as to whether the stem cells were extracted from bone marrow, peripheral blood, or cord blood.
1. Spinal cord injury. In January, the Food and Drug Administration OK’d its first-ever human study of a medical treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells. The objective: help people with acute spinal cord injuries. While expected to assess only the safety of the treatment, the study also might show if the paralyzed volunteers can regain some feeling in and control over their lower extremities.
There are several advantages of using umbilical cord blood stem cells over bone marrow stem cells for transplants (see Table 2). The first advantage is that umbilical cord blood is relatively easy to collect and process. Once considered a substance to be thrown away after a birth, now the cord blood can be easily saved. After it is saved and sent to a storage facility, the cord blood is quickly available for use within days to weeks after processing. In contrast, bone marrow stem cells can take much longer to find a match, collect the sample, and process. The process for bone marrow transplantation can take from weeks to months. The collection process for cord blood is not painful to either mother or child and can be done either prior to or after the delivery of the placenta (Gonzalez-Ryan, VanSyckle, Coyne, & Glover, 2000; Percer, 2009). Bone marrow transplants, on the other hand, require the donor to be hospitalized, anesthetized, and experience postcollection pain and discomfort. Thus, compared to cord blood, bone marrow collection and transplantation of stem cells are more costly (Drew, 2005; Moise, 2005).

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