Stem cells are the original cells of the human organizm. They are characterized by an unlimited ability to divide and develop. They develop into all the elements of the human organism: skin, muscles, bones, nerves, blood cells and organs. Why does this happen? When stem cells divide they create new cells which then difirentiate through further division into the cells which circulate in our blood (white and red blood cells, platelets, lymphocytes) and cells which create bone, fat, muscles and cells which form the so called stroma of the bone marrow.
The unusual qualities of stem cells have lead to their clinical use becoming broader. Even today we use them to effectively treat some cancers, diseases of the blood and immune system, and hereditary diseases.
Progress in medicine has lead to the developement of standard treatments for many diseases, using stem cells from umbilical cord blood. Every year the list of these diseases grows longer. This is due to the stem cells ability to develop into blood cells or elements of the immune system, which allows for their repair.
Stem cells can be effectively used to treat lymphomas, leukemia and other cancers. Stem cells are also used in transplantology after chemotherapy and radiation therapy, when the cancer cells and the healthy stem cells in the bone marrow are destroyed. Autologous or allogeneic (depending on the disease and the availability of a donor) cell transplants are then used to rebuild the hematopoietic system and regenerate the patient’s immune system.
Recent discoveries suggest a great breakthrough concerning the use of so called mesenchymal stem cells, which can be used to grow daughter cells typical of different kinds of tissue (bone, cartilage, muscle, nerves or bone marrow) in a laboratory setting. Research, and in some cases even the first clinical trials, is being conducted into using these cells in regenerative processes including repairing myocardial scarring, treating Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, strokes, MS, or even diabetes. Scientists have no doubt that the use of stem cells in the future will be much wider and even more groundbreaking.
Ljungman P, Urbano-Ispizua A, Cavazzana-Calvo M, Demirer T, Dini G, Einsele H, Gratwohl A, Madrigal A, Niederwieser D, Passweg J, Rocha V, Saccardi R, Schouten H, Schmitz N, Socie G, Sureda A, Apperley J; European Group for Blood and Marrow. Allogeneic and autologous transplantation for haematological diseases, solid tumours and immune disorders: definitions and current practice in Europe. Bone Marrow Transplant. 2006 Mar;37(5):439-449.
Umbilical cord blood stem cellls show similar characteristics to the hematopoietic cells in bone marrow. Reasearch has shown however, that they posses many qualities not associated with bone marrow cells: they are younger, less mature and more malleable, which means they have a high proliferation potential (a high ability to multiply after transplantation). This applies to both autologous (the recipient is the donor) and allogeneic (transplant from another person) transplants. Using one’s own stem cells has many advantages, including the practically non-existent risk of graft-versus-host-disease (GvHD). In the case of allogeneic transplants one must remember that usually the HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigens) match between the donor and recipient isn’t perfect, which can cause the transplanted cells to be rejected or Graft-versus-Host-Disease (GvHD) to occur. There are strong indications, however, that the risk of this reaction is significantly smaller when umbilical cord stem cells are used. This is due to the fact that cord blood lymphocytes are less mature and immunologically neutral. This is why in allogeneic transplants of cord blood stem cells a lower HLA compatibility is accepted. It is estimated that in cord blood stem cell transplants between siblings, the probability of having a sufficient compatibility is 50%. You also need to remember that collecting cord blood is quick and painless, while getting bone marrow takes longer and often requires general anaesthesia. It is also worth mentioning that should using the cord blood you have stored in the Stem Cell Bank nOvum become a necessity, the deposit will be immediately available to your child, without having to search for a compatible donor, which is a lengthy and expensive process.