Stem cells are cells that have the ability to renew themselves through cell division.
Stem cell research could lead to the development of organs that are a perfect match for a particular patient.
This would be very desirable, since organ transplants require anti-rejection drugs in order to keep the human body from attacking the transplanted organ.
But an organ created through stem cell research would be a clone of the patient’s organ and would not be rejected.
Opponents of the stem cell research believe that the destruction of the fetus in order to extract the stem cells is immoral. However, there is one source of stem cells that could be used. Extracting stem cells from this source would not harm the fetus.
Umbilical cord blood
The blood found within the umbilical cord blood contains stem cells. The umbilical cord is usually disposed of after a pregnancy, so there are no ethical problems associated with the use of the blood. This blood is extracted from the umbilical cord and stored.
Umbilical cord blood storage
Parents are asked if they would like the blood stored in a blood bank. This is done both out of the parents willingness to contribute the blood to science and also as a form of health insurance.
The stem cells contained within the cord blood can be used in the future to grow organs for the child.
Controversies still exist over umbilical cord banking. These controversies come both from the fact that claims about the banking are unsubstantiated and that the costs of storing this blood might not be worth it.
Given that the number of expected blood banking procedures conducted is expected to be in the tens of thousands per year, an enormous number of blood banks will need to be set up throughout the world.
So far, researchers have found that the blood will not be useful for treating leukemia cancer. Currently, doctors are not sure of how these stem cells will be used in therapy.
If these blood banks turn out to be useless, an enormous amount of money will have been wasted.
Treatments supported by research
Cord blood has been found to be useful when treating diabetes. Children might be able to avoid diabetes if they receive a transfusion of cord blood.
Trials have also shown that children with cerebral palsy [cerebral palsy treatment]and brain injuries respond well to transfusions of cord blood.
How does cord blood banking work?
Up to 180ml of blood is extracted from the umbilical cord after it is cut. This blood is analyzed and then cryogenically frozen in order to keep the blood cells alive.
A cryopreservant is added to the blood in order to protect it from damage caused by the freezing process.
The blood is then shipped to a public or private bank for storage. Private storage can be costly, but the umbilical cord blood is more likely to be recovered from a private bank than from a public bank.
While the future potential benefits of umbilical cord blood are great, many parents might be hesitant to put money towards a procedure that might have no ultimate use at all.