Umbilical cord blood contains mesenchymal stem cells (MSC). These cells can differentiate to build bone, cartilage and connective tissue, and are also effective in regulating the body’s inflammatory response to damaged or injured cells. Cord blood banking helps store the umbilical cord blood for future use. There are two types of banking facilities for storing the cord blood; public donor banks and the private banks. In public donor banks, the baby’s cord blood is donated to a central facility for use by anybody who needs it. A private cord blood banking centre will allow the use of a baby’s cord blood either for the baby itself or his/her siblings or a family member.
Harvesting cord blood is a safe and painless procedure done shortly after birth. The collected cord blood is sent to the chosen cord-blood bank where the stem cells are separated from the blood and stored in liquid nitrogen (also called cryogenic storage).
Currently researchers are exploring the use of cord blood stem cells to treat conditions such as Type 1 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, central nervous system disorders like cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome, traumatic spinal injuries, blood cancer, thalassemia (inherited) and bone marrow failure diseases. In a major breakthrough, scientists have managed to grow artificial skin using stem cells derived from the umbilical cord. A 100 per cent HLA match during a transplant programme will ensure that the transplant is a success. Cord blood is a preferred source for stem cell therapy over bone marrow transplants. Transplant patients have very low chances of rejection and a better chance of recovery if they receive their own stem cells or those of close family instead of someone unrelated.