I feel there is a lot of awareness about the availability of Cord Blood Banking in Malta however I also feel there is a lack of awareness in terms of the where, how and why. Do we know what a stem cell is? What are the potential benefits of Cord tissue banking? How did it all start? In a bid to try and get some straightforward answers (without the scientific jargon), I contacted a fellow mummy, and representative of one of the Cord Blood Bank companies in Malta, to answer some simple questions that I feel ‘mummies-to-be’ would find interesting.
- What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are the building blocks of the body and have the ability to create our organs, blood, tissue and the immune system. These Stem Cells can be found in places like bone marrow and fat tissue, but the youngest, most flexible Stem Cells in the body come from the baby’s umbilical cord.
- What is Cord Blood & Cord tissue Banking?
Cord blood comes from the tiny quantity of blood that remains in the new-born’s umbilical cord and placenta after a baby is born and the cord is cut. These Cord Blood Stem Cells have the power to regenerate an entirely new immune and blood system.
In the late 1980’s, a 6 year old boy named Matthew, suffering from Fanconi Anaemia, became the first ever recipient of Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells. The cord blood’s donor was Matthew’s new-born sister. The transplant proved a complete success, curing Matthew of a disease generally considered incurable. Today, 26 years later, Matthew Farrow is alive and well, a husband and a father, and the lucky recipient of the world’s first cord blood transplant.
Since that time, over 35,000 Cord Blood Stem Cells transplants have been done around the world and transplants have increased for 80 blood and bone marrow disorders.
- How is the procedure carried out?
Cord blood is taken at birth from the baby’s umbilical cord and the placenta. Doctors use a sterile cord blood collection kit to capture the blood immediately after the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut. Part of the umbilical tissue is also extracted, processed into cells and stored. This procedure must be done within 10 to 15 minutes after delivery to ensure viability.
- Does the collection process impact in any way the mother or baby in birth?
The collection procedure does not interfere with the labour process in any way. It is performed by the gynecologist, obstetrician or midwife without any contact with the newborn. The whole collection process lasts less than 10 minutes.
- Can the procedure be done with both natural and C-section birth?
Yes. Whether you have a standard delivery or via C-section, the process of collecting one’s new-born’s cord blood is possible.
- Is there any physical pain involved in the process from the mother or baby’s end?
Absolutely not. The process is totally safe, painless, and non-disruptive to the mother, baby and birth plan itself.
- How long after you are pregnant should you organise it and decide on whether to go for it?
It is advised that new parents look into their options at least two months prior to their due date in order to make an informed decision in a leisurely, calm manner. There are many things new parents have to think about before their bundle of joy comes along so best to think ahead on something as significant as this.
- Can the Stem Cells potentially also help parents and other relatives or just siblings?
The way it works is that your baby is obviously a 100% match to his or her cord blood stem cells. He may also be a match for a sibling. Siblings of the same biological parents have a 25% chance of being a perfect match and a 50% chance of being a partial match; biological parents will always be a partial match. It is recommended (if possible) to save every child’s stem cells because some conditions require one’s own cord blood stem cells, while other conditions require donor cells.
- What are the current and potential benefits of stem cell collection?
Today, cord blood stems cells are used in the treatment of nearly 80 diseases, including a wide range of cancers, genetic diseases, and blood disorders. In a cord blood transplant, stem cells are infused in to a patient’s bloodstream where they go to work healing and repairing damaged cells and tissue. When a transplant is successful, a healthy new immune system has been created.
Further to the Umbilical Cord Blood collection and banking services, there is also the banking service of the Stem Cells that derive from Cord Tissue itself. Umbilical Cord Tissue consists a rich source of Mesenchymal Stem Cells. These are cells that have the ability to differentiate or “produce” other cell types of the human body which is quite incredible. This ability of these cells led to their use in researches in the fields of Regenerative Medicine, Tissue Engineering, Gene Therapy and also in research exploring their use in Cancer Therapies. Doctors are also researching cord blood and tissue Stem Cells as potential treatment for conditions that currently have no cure.
This information was kindly brought to us by Lara Camilleri, mummy of 2 and representative of ‘Lifeline. Umbilical Blood and Tissue Family Bank’ in Malta.
Do you have any other questions you would like answered? If so, feel free to give us your feedback in the comments section below or contact Lara or Jana at Lifeline Malta (details below) who are qualified to answer any question, doubt or concerns you may have about stem cells and cord tissue collection.