Should you keep your child’s stem cells?

The blood in the umbilical cord and placenta after #baby is born has special cells in it that can cure some serious diseases. These stem cells can be banked and, later, used to treat leukemia, anemia, and other rare diseases. Contrary to public belief, they are rarely used by the donors themselves. 

What makes stem cells so amazing?
Stem cells are so powerful because they can become almost any type of cell in the body. 

Limitations of stem cells
Contrary to public belief, stem cells are usually used to heal other people, not the owner of the stem cells. This means that if you keep your child’s stem cells, they will, if ever, most likely be used by other family members. Autologous stem cell transplant, a process that uses healthy blood stem cells from your own body, can only be used to treat certain diseases. 

Two types of stem cells
They are embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells: Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent. This means that they can turn into more than one type of cell.

Adult stem cells: Adult stem cells come from fully developed tissues, such as the brain, skin, and bone marrow. These cells are more likely to generate only certain types of cells. For example, a stem cell that comes from the heart will only make more heart cells. However, adult stem cells can be changed in a lab to become more like embryonic stem cells.

What do stem cells treat?
Currently, stem cells are usually used to treat five types of conditions: 

  • blood cancers (leukemia)
  • bone marrow failure
  • genetic blood disorders
  • Immuno-deficiencies
  • genetic metabolic disorders.

Can stem cells treat leukemia in children?
In cases where stem cell transplant is the treatment of choice, doctors would most likely not use the child’s stem cells for treatment since the cancer cells might have been with the child since birth. Doctors would, instead, use the stem cells from the child’s relatives or siblings.

What is cord blood banking?
The blood in a baby’s umbilical cord contains stem cells, which can grow up to be almost any kind of blood or immune cell. This blood can be collected during your child’s birth and banked for later use. There are public and private blood banks. Donating your child’s cord blood to a public bank is being encouraged.

Should I bank my baby’s cord blood?
If your family has a medical history involving a condition that is treatable with stem cell transplants, #baby banked cord blood could be a lifesaver for a sibling or other family member later. However, there are a few scientific arguments about why storing your child’s blood might not be the right option.

The scientific argument against commercial cord blood banking
According to a study by the National Health Service, private stem cell banking has the following downsides:

  • The likelihood that the stored blood will be used is very low (estimates range from 1 in 1400 to 1 in 20 000)
  • The cord blood may not be the best option — for example, leukemic cells may be present in cord blood of children who later develop leukemia
  • Risk at the collection: Blood that is being collected from the cord while the placenta is still in utero could interfere with your labor process. If the blood is collected later, the blood can be contaminated with bacteria or maternal fluid.
  • Commercial cord blood banks often make false claims. Saying that the cord blood could be used to treat diabetes and other diseases, for example, is highly speculative.

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