Baby Stem Cells, Umbilical Cord Blood Pros and Cons

JRush Asked :

I am having a C-section in about 7 weeks and was considering stem cell banking for my baby. I have not spoken to my obstetrician as yet but after discussing it with many of my friends who turned down the option, I am in two minds about it. I have heard that new technology means that cells can be turned into stem cells so banking is not necessary anymore.

Others have told me that the stem cells are only useful for some diseases and a lot of the claims are just a big hype to make money. I am a bit unsure as to what to do and I don’t want the stem cell procedure to affect the C-section in any way. I am trying to weigh out the pros and cons but I am little confused about what’s going on about the stem cell debate?

This question was posted under the What are Stem Cells? Embryonic, Adult, Induced Pluripotent article.

Any response by the Health Hype team does not constitute a medical consultation and the advice should be viewed purely as a guide. Always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your current treatment program. The information provided in this article is not an authoritative resource on the subject matter and solely intends to guide the reader based on the questions asked and information provided.

Dr. Chris Answered :

There are two main types of stem cells that you need to be aware of – embryonic stem cells, which are also referred to as fetal stem cells, and those stem cells found in the umbilical cord blood. Embryonic stem cells are also referred to as pluripotent stem cell because it is essentially a “blank” cell and can be “programmed” to become any type of cell in the body. Cord blood has slightly more mature stem cells which can only differentiate into certain types of cells (multipotent) – hemopoietic cells found in the cord blood can be “grown” and offer options for your baby in certain types of blood related diseases.

The new technology you are probably referring to is “reprogramming” these adult stem cells to become pluripotent similar to embryonic stem cells. These are referred to as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). There is a lot of hope about the future applications about this type of stem cell. Adult (or somatic) stem cells can be found in limited quantities in certain organs in the body and if iPSC’s really do live up to the promise then it will benefit many people who have not banked stem cells. Of course there is the issue of sourcing the stem cell in the first place and if you have stem cells banked, it makes the whole procedure so much more easier.

The issue to bank stem cells is a family decision – apart from your child, parents and siblings may also benefit from these stem cells in the long term. Many doctors will tell you that if you can afford it, go ahead and bank the cells. If your baby, other kids or you and your partner do not want it at a later stage, you can ask the storage bank to discard it. There is no debate (or should be no debate) about stem cells sourced from the umbilical cord blood. This would have been discarded and “belong” to your baby unlike the embryos which sparked the ethical issues of previous stem cell research. Banking the cord blood gives you and your family options. It may not be the “cure all” like it is made out to be in the media but it is one of the more exciting medical discoveries in the past few decades.

Collection of umbilical cord blood do not pose a risk to you or your baby. After delivering the baby and ensuring that both you  and baby are stable, the obstetrician will drain the blood from the umbilical cord. This will then be placed in the collection containers provided by the stem cell bank and couriered to them for processing and storage. Your obstetrician will not jeopardize you or your newborn baby in any way to focus on collecting the umbilical cord blood. The only issue here is that some doctors may request an additional fee for collecting the blood but most do not do so. Speak to your obstetrician about this.

Stem cell research is making great strides almost on a daily basis. Apart from cancer and blood related disorders, there is new evidence emerging constantly about the benefits in treating certain forms of cardiovascular and neurological diseases. There is the prospect of many new and exciting applications in the horizon and it may be a wasted opportunity not to store these cells if you can afford to do so now. If you decide not to have another child in the future or if you cannot afford to bank the cord blood upon a subsequent delivery, at least you will have options by banking your baby’s stem cells now. You should speak to your obstetrician about the pros and cons of cord blood banking and make your decision based on the facts.

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