Submitted by Hunter H. Kerrison
First-time mother and cancer survivor, Kelli Brown was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin's disease. After six months of chemotherapy, Kelli became pregnant. A year and a half after being in remission, a baby girl, Cayleigh, was born.
During her pregnancy, Kelli's oncologist William Schmidt, MD, suggested she think about storing her baby's cord blood. Thus, providing both Kelli and her husband, Jeff, the security of knowing that should the need arise, a possible cure for mom and baby was just one call away. With Dr. Schmidt facilitating the process, Cayleigh's cord blood was successfully stored and is a readily available match for the Brown family should the need arise.
What is Cord Blood Storage and How is it Connected to Stem Cells?
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta following child birth and is routinely discarded with the placenta and the umbilical cord. A process called cord blood banking allows mothers to have their newborn baby's cord blood saved for potential medical uses.
Stem cells are "unspecialized cells" that can divide to become other types of cells. For example, a stem cell could be developed into a beating cell of the heart muscle or the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Thus enabling stem cells to heal a defective cardiovascular system by regenerating heart tissue or end a diabetic's dependence on insulin.
Cord blood is a rich source of stem cells that can only be collected in the minutes following child birth.
Why Store My Baby's Cord Blood?
Cord blood stem cells are a type of "insurance policy" produced during procreation. They live in a sanctuary site, the umbilical cord, linking the mother and baby. The virginal state of the umbilical cord blood stem cell translates to a better potential for cell division as they are young, resilient, and have not been exposed to any outside factors. Outside factors, such as bacteria and viruses, disrupt the cell and reduce the chance that it is a likely match for the candidate in need.
A child's own stem cells provide a perfect match if a transplant is ever needed. The chances of stem cells being a match for a child's biological brother or sister are one in four. (The odds for finding a match outside of the family are thousands of times greater.)
Research has shown that survival rates double when a person’s own cord blood or that of a family member is used, compared to using an unrelated donor sample from a public stem cell bank. Having your own private sample ensures immediate availability of a perfect or close match. Cord blood stem cells are easier to match for family members than bone marrow, thus increasing the chances that a family member can receive a stem cell transplant.
Obtaining cord blood or bone marrow through a national bank from an unrelated donor can cost more than $40,000.
"Aside from educating people about the benefits of cord blood storage, we are committed to making umbilical cord blood stem cell banking a possibility for all expectant parents – regardless of income," said Don DeLuca, Jr., CEO of South Carolina's only umbilical cord blood stem cell storage facility, CureSource. "We removed the cost obstacle by pricing ourselves below 1,000 dollars and offering a monthly payment plan."
What are some Current Uses of Stem Cells?
The list of diseases involving stem cells in treatment is growing every year as researchers study this fascinating field. Some examples of these include: heart attacks, where stem cells have been infused into a damaged heart to repair tissue; coronary artery and vascular disease, where stem cells have been used to encourage new blood vessels to grow around the blocked arteries; nerve and brain damage, where researchers have recently found that human stem cells can mature into nerve cells; strokes, where researchers have found that infusing stem cells into rats improves brain function after a stroke or brain injury; and Multiple Sclerosis, where MS patients show improvement after stem cell infusion.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in America today. If stem cell treatments become a viable and routine option for preventing and treating cardiovascular disease, then having banked stem cells will be an enormous advantage. If researchers continue to show stem cells' ability to regenerate damaged or diseased brain tissue, then treating neurological conditions such as MS, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's is attainable. Diabetes is another prevalent disease where stem cell treatment is the cure on the horizon. This body of evidence begs us to just imagine the possibilities for where we will be with stem cell treatments in a mere 5 years.
Most commonly known is the treatment of cancer and other blood-related disorders via stem cell transplants. The Candlelighter Cancer Society research states that, "One in 333 people will contract cancer before the age of 20." Recent research in the field of oncology provides stem cell treatment option for all terminal cancers. Stem cells can either be taken from the patient’s or a matching family member's bone marrow, or from stored cord blood.
The enrolled mother's physician will draw the blood from the umbilical cord at the time of birth. The procedure is completely safe, painless, and noninvasive. The blood is then returned to the lab within 32 hours where the stem cells will be extracted and stored at extremely low temperatures. Although it is likely that properly frozen sample of the baby's cord blood will last for an unlimited period of time, the body of evidence available guarantees that it will remain preserved for 19 years.
A Testimonial to Live By
Gary and Lisa Farquharson, a young couple with no history of medical problems, became the proud parents of Jesse in 2000. At the suggestion of Lisa's mother, the Farquharsons decided to store their newborn's umbilical cord blood. At four months old, Jesse was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that could only be treated with extreme chemotherapy, a treatment that would not only kill all cancerous cells, but many of the baby's healthy ones as well. To survive the chemo, he would require a bone-marrow or cord-blood transplant to infuse his body with lifesaving and immune-system-repairing stem cells.
Because of their foresight, the Farquharsons were spared the agonizing race against the clock to try to find a bone-marrow donor. Their doctors could use Jesse's own frozen cord blood for the procedure. On April 19, 2001, after seven months of chemotherapy, Jesse underwent a transplant that used the stem cells from his own umbilical-cord blood. Thankfully, the transplant was a success. Jesse's healthy umbilical cells regenerated swiftly, rebuilding his immune system. Today he's a healthy, happy 2-year-old.
"Everyone says Jesse's a miracle child," says Lisa. "I can't tell you the agony I saw parents go through as they watched their children die while waiting for bone-marrow transplant. Every day I thank God our family decided to bank Jesse's cord blood."
"A blood storage system costs about the same as a personal computer. And if those stem cells are there when you need them, you will never regret your decision."
Life Insurance for the Family
The thought of their unborn child being struck by a rare cancer or generic disorder is enough to terrify even the most stoic expectant parent. Is it any surprise, then, that Jesse's success story and others like it are sparking a mini-revolution in medical care as tens of thousands of parents store powerful regenerative cells from their babies' umbilical-cord blood as "biological insurance" against future disease? A new generation of private blood banks is springing up across the U.S. to enable parents to bank umbilical cells for a guaranteed match should their children ever need blood or bone marrow transplants.
There's no doubt that most new parents go to great lengths to give their babies the best possible start in life. They buy life insurance, set up savings accounts, even prepay college tuition. But is it really worth it asks many practitioners. "Definitely," says William Schmidt, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer for CureSource and practicing oncologist. "It is rare that science brings to the forefront a cure for disease with as much potential for success as stem cells afford patients with terminal illnesses from cancer to sickle cell anemia.
Right now, the biggest hurdle we have to jump is education. In order to prevent this fountain of cure from continuing to be a waste product at delivery, it is up to physicians to routinely educate OB patients about their chance at the newest life insurance policy available today… umbilical cord blood stem cell storage."
CureSource Inc. is an umbilical cord blood stem cell storage facility based in Charleston, South Carolina. Founded by clinician and parents, CureSource is at the forefront of umbilical cord blood education. Visit them at their website or call 1-888-710-CURE for more information. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.