Health Facts

Stem Cell – What is it all about?

Stem Cell – What is it all about

If you are a new parent or an experienced one, you would have heard of umbilical cord banking. Companies like Stemlife, CyrcoCord and others have been ‘marketing’ this service to couples at expos, fairs and other parenting events.

So what is whole umbilical cord banking service where parents are spending thousands for? Make no mistake about it, the umbilical cord was once regarded as medical waste and that was a part which was discarded during child-birth.

Today, the situation has changed. The blood from the umbilical cord can now be ‘frozen and banked’ which can cost thousands. At average, you will pay about RM2,500 for the first year and then a few hundred annually.

In a certain way, storing the umbilical cord is seen as an ‘insurance’. This was not possible about 15 years ago and today, they claim that stem cells from the banked blood could be used in a later date. This is supposed to help to treat the person (or even a sibling) if they contract a certain disease. In other words, while there are no concrete evidence to support this yet, it could mean that the individual’s health is somewhat ‘future-proof’. Among the diseases mentioned includes leukaemia and certain types of cancer.

What is it all about?
The blood from the umbilical cord has embryonic stem cells which can be made into cells that are more specialized which can then allow them to reproduce. At the moment, the research into stem cells and the development has been astounding. This includes the likes of treating paraplegia while some even delved into growing of new organs.

Theoretically, damaged or diseased cells can be treated with stem cells and could be used for bone-marrow transplants.

What happens in stem cell banking?
What actually happens is that the cord blood is processed almost immediately after the birth of the baby. The cord blood is extracted within minutes and then placed in a special casing to be rushed to the centre for processing.

This means that the doctor (gynaecologist) handling the delivery must be made aware of the request. If you have an arrangement with the stem cell company, you must inform them about the time of the birth and they will have their personnel on standby. The equipment will be at hand where the doctor will place the umbilical cord into the casing immediately and then will be couriered away quickly.

Is this legal and is it true?
Yes, stem cell banking is a fully legal and legitimate service. However, there has yet to be any published examples of the cord blood being used to cure leukaemia among the patients. There have been some cases of successful sibling transplants for children with hereditary condition thalassemia and there are currently not enough findings to fully substantiate how stem cells can be harvested to cure patients.

What should you believe?
As a parent, the whole idea behind stem cell storage is to give your child the best possible chance of health in the future. While there might not be sufficient technology currently, who knows what could be possible 10 years down the road. After all, sometime about 10 to 15 years ago, this service was almost non-existent.

It would be a case of having it rather than not. Put in a simpler sense, if you had a choice to store your own cord blood, would you have done so? You probably would.

Hence, it would make perfect sense to let your child has that chance as well if it is not too costly. After all, it might really come in handy someday.