Cord Blood Banking
In this day and age, when diseases are many, one often does not know where to get a donor, if and when required. Scientists have now found a new, harmless and pain free method by which one can assure treatment not only of one’s own ailments but also that of siblings and relatives.
Cord blood is the blood that is present in the umbilical cord soon after the birth of a baby; it is a rich source of stem cells. Stem cells are the primitive cells that have the ability to divide rapidly to produce specialized cells. They can develop into three major parts – Red Blood Cells (RBC), White Blood Cells (WBC) and Platelets.
How is it done?
During pregnancy, the umbilical cord is the life line between the mother and the baby. After the birth of the child the umbilical cord is clamped, thereby breaking the link between the baby and the placenta. Before the placenta comes out small amounts of blood (about 3 to 5 ounces) are taken from the umbilical cord, placenta and the mother's blood. The sample is then taken to the cord blood bank for processing and testing. It is essential for the unit/sample to meet certain standards to ensure it is stored. The standards are as follows –
- The sample must be large enough
- The maternal and family health history must meet the eligibility guidelines
- Test on the unit of cord blood and mothers’ blood should show no signs of infection or other possible problems.
If the sample meets these standards, then it is stored Cryogenically – in a liquid nitrogen container at -190 degree Celsius. This unit can then be used either for the self, for a family member, for a friend or for an unknown person provided the recipients sample matches with the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) signature of the stored sample. HLA are proteins found in the cells of the body that help in matching in cases of transplants The stem cells of the baby are a perfect match for the baby itself, while they have a 25% chance of matching in the case of a sibling.
Pros and Cons
The benefits of preserving the cord blood of the baby are –
- Cord blood can be used to treat disease such as cancer, immunodeficiency and thalaseamia among others
- It does not have any side effects for the recipient as the cells are in their primitive stage
- The risk of contracting a disease is minimal
The disadvantages of cord blood banking are –
- The amount of cord blood needed varies upon the size of the person
- In India cord blood banking is still a very expensive procedure and so one that the common man cannot really afford
The first ever cord blood bank was set up in New York at the Milstein National Cord Blood Centre, a public cord blood bank. While the first successful stem cell transplant took place in 1988, when French researchers took the umbilical cord blood from a new born and gave it to a five year old sibling who was suffering from a type of anemia that was very severe and one that causes skeletal defects.
Cord blood banking is fast becoming popular. It is a genuine form of biological insurance, so why not secure the family’s life this way.
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