Becoming a parent is fraught with responsibilities. On International Stem Cell Awareness Day, prospective parents should know the facts about the life-saving abilities of umbilical cord stem cells so that they can make informed decisions for their families.
Stem cells should be called master cells as they can replicate, regenerate and differentiate themselves into any one of 200 different specialised cells in the body, and are used to treat over 80 potentially life-threatening blood related diseases including leukaemia, lymphoma and bone marrow failures.
Blood stem cell transplantation, using stem blood cells from sources such as bone marrow, has been performed for more than 50 years, with more than one million blood stem cell transplants across the world playing an important role in the treatment of bone marrow failures, blood cancers, blood disorders, metabolic diseases, immune deficiencies and autoimmune diseases.
In celebration and support of Stem Cell Awareness Day on 12 October, Cryo-Save South Africa has listed the top 10 most noteworthy facts about stem cells that you need to know:
1. Stem cells are your body’s internal repair system
Stem cells continuously replace dead or diseases cells with healthy ones to maintain a normal functioning body. They fall into two major groups; pluripotent and multipotent stem cells.
Pluripotent stem cells are powerful, meaning they can develop into any type of cell in your body. However, these cells are still fraught with ethical controversy.
Multipotent stem cells, also called adult stem cells, can develop certain tissue cells to maintain your body’s organs as you age, such as blood-forming stem cells. Blood-forming stem cells produce new and healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to all parts of our body; white blood cells to fight bacteria; and platelets which form clots to pervert excessive bleeding.
2. Best time to collect stem cells is at birth
Stem cells age as we age, so the best time to collect blood stem cells is at birth. These cells have not been exposed to pollution and poor lifestyle choices and can therefore offer greater therapeutic possibilities and better transplant outcomes.
3. Stem cells from umbilical cord blood don’t need to be a 100% match for transplants
Although your baby’s umbilical cord blood stem cells are a 100% perfect match for own use, there is a 25% probability for a 100% match for siblings. However, unlike bone marrow transplants, you often don’t need a 100% match using cord blood stem cells, which means the probability of finding a suitable donor is so much greater.
4. Stem cell storage is not that costly
Stem cell storage is available to anyone who wishes to store their baby’s umbilical cord stem cells. Cryo-Save offers multiple cost options and interest-free payment plans from as little as R273.00 per month to store cord blood and R350.00 per month for storing both cord blood and tissue.
5. Mixed ethnicity parents should store stem cells
The chances of finding a perfect matching blood stem cell donor for an allogeneic (matching donor) transplant are only 1:1,00,000, but the odds are much lower for anyone from a mixed-race family.
Despite its diverse ethnic make-up, Africa has no public cord blood stem cell bank, which makes the likelihood of finding a matching donor even more challenging. Therefore, Cryo-Save encourages mixed race families to store their babies’ stem cells.
6. Banking stem cells is not just for families with a history of cancer
Many people don’t realise that stem cells now play a part in the treatment of over 80 blood diseases and conditions.
Every day we are seeing more diseases developing, and more clinical trials are taking place to identify treatments of many of these diseases. Some of the most promising research is being done to use children’s’ own umbilical cord blood stem cells in the treatment of cerebral palsy and autism. Additionally, statistics show that more than 90% of cancers develop due to lifestyle factors, not genetics, and that the incidence of cancer is increasing.
7. Stem cell collection is a safe medical procedure
Collecting stem cells from an umbilical cord is quick, painless and non-invasive, posing no medical risk to mother or baby. It is only after the clamping that the blood and tissue are collected from the umbilical cord for stem cell processing.
8. Stem cell banking is possible with any type of birth
Cord blood and cord tissue collections can be performed at both vaginal and caesarean deliveries. Immediately following the birth but before the placenta is delivered, the healthcare provider collects the cord blood from the baby’s umbilical cord.
9. You can store your second child’s stem cells if you didn’t store for your first child
Today, umbilical cord stem cells are used in more than a third of blood stem cell transplants around the world. Siblings have a 25% chance of being a perfect match. But because cord blood stem cells do not require a perfect match for transplant, the likelihood that siblings will be a match is much higher. Therefore, storing your second child’s stem cells has the possibility, depending on the degree of matching, to treat your first child should a stem cell transplant be required and may also be used for other immediate family members.
10. Stem cell storage is available in South Africa
Cryo-Save has been storing umbilical cord stem cells for families all over the world since 2000. It is the leading family stem cell bank in Europe and ranked fifth most influential cord blood bank in the world by Bio Informant. Cryo-Save South Africa offers both local and international storage options in either Pretoria or Europe for both cord blood and cord tissue. This local laboratory complies with the highest international standards and importantly complies to the coveted American Association of Blood Banks accreditation standards.
Just as some people need organ transplants to treat or cure diseases, blood stem cells can be transplanted too. If the blood forming stem cells in our bodies cannot produce healthy cells or stop producing cells completely, we cannot function normally and our stem cells will have to be REPLACED with healthy ones that can be found in the bone marrow or umbilical cord blood. Sometimes these stem cells are your own, and sometimes they will come from a donor.
Cryo-Save puts an emphasis on educating potential patients and helping them make well-informed treatment decisions. Wise up on your insight of stem cells and visit www.cryosave.co.za or contact their information hub to find out more on 087 8080 170 or email info@cryo-save. co.za.