If you are a soon to be parent you are also probably familiar with information that invites you to bank your baby's umbilical cord blood as a form of insurance for future medical needs. Many parents remain confused about this new procedure and have many questions.
The umbilical cord is a tube that connects a developing fetus to the placenta. After a child is born, the uterus spontaneously expels the baby's placenta along with the umbilical cord from the mother's body. The umbilical cord is cut and the cord and placenta are typically discarded. We now know that the blood inside the umbilical cord is a very rich source of "stem" cells, the "mother" cells which develop into the major components of blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. These stem cells are similar to those previously obtained from adult bone marrow.
Umbilical cord blood saved and stored at birth is now another new source for these precious life saving cells. The drive to preserve umbilical cord blood lacks the debate on the use of embryonic stem cells. The stem cells in cord blood do not require the cloning or destruction of embryos.
The use of stored umbilical cord blood has been exclusively limited for use in stem cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants, are frequently used for the treatment of a variety of serious illnesses such as leukemia, lymphomas, immune deficiency, cancer, and some types of bone marrow failure.
According to the National Donor Marrow Program, because tissue type is inherited, patients are most likely to match someone of their same race and ethnicity.
Over the past year our stem cell transplant unit at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center has performed six such transplants in patients who otherwise would have died of their illness. The cord blood units were donated from women who delivered babies from different cities throughout the country. Privately stored cord blood provides the use of your child's blood in the future should your child or family require it.
Donating cord blood is medically safe and poses no risk to the mother or baby. This, or any other medical procedure, is a personal choice and should be made after due consideration and consultation. However soon, all new parents having a child will have the choice to – discard, donate, or save the umbilical cord blood. For the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, I'm Dr. Tedd Mitchell, and this is the President's Prescription.
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