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What You Should Know | Banking Stem Cells


By donating blood from the umbilical cord and placenta after giving birth, you could save a life as you create a new one. Dr. Chris outlines what you need to know about banking cord blood stem cells.


T


hanks to their ability to become specialised cells and multiply indefinitely, stem cells have become a


primary field of scientific research over the past few years. They offer scientists an opportunity to learn more about how and why certain diseases occur, test new drugs and treat degenerative conditions ranging from diabetes to cancer. Banking cord blood stem cells—


found in the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord following birth—is one of the easiest ways that doctors can obtain these life saving cells. The stem cells found in cord blood can be used to restore a patient’s immune and blood producing systems, making them an invaluable resource in treating a range of life threatening conditions.


What is cord blood


used for? Some of the diseases which blood cord stem cells can be used to treat include leukemia, lymphoma, bone marrow failure, sickle cell anaemia, immunodeficiency disorders and metabolic disorders. However, in order for treatment to be successful,


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the cells must match the patient’s own as closely as possible. For this reason, the UK is trying to build up a bank of cord blood donations to ensure that all patients in the UK and internationally are able to find a suitable match.


What are the benefits of


cord blood? Unlike other stem cell sources such as bone marrow or adult blood—for which obtaining donations can be a lengthy process with no guarantee of a match—in most cases cord blood can be easily taken following birth and stored for up to 20 years. As the stem cells in cord blood are less mature than in adult stem cells, the likelihood of obtaining a match with the patient is greatly increased, making cord blood stem cells


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particularly in demand by doctors.


How do I donate? Following birth, the stem cell rich


umbilical cord and placenta are usually discarded. In order to donate your own cord blood, you can register with the NHS Cord Blood Bank or the blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan, who will check that you are eligible to donate (most people are.)


Both organisations have specially


trained staff at a number of hospitals across the UK who will be able to arrange for you to donate to the UK’s cord blood bank if you give birth there. More information about the simple process can be found on their websites. (www.nhsbt.nhs.uk and www.anthonynolan.org).


DEAR DOCTOR WITH DR CHRIS STEELE 111


Currently only half of Fact


patients in need of cord blood stem cells find a donor match. The NHS hopes to increase this number to 80 percent by encouraging more mothers to donate.


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