Your baby’s umbilical cord is a source of valuable stem cells. These are “building block” cells that not only can self replicate, but can also differentiate into other cell types. They have the ability to help repair our bodies by regenerating cells and tissues, and are the backbone of the regenerative medicine revolution.
A unique opportunity at birth
The birth of a child represents a unique opportunity to safely and easily access two different types of these powerful cells. The umbilical cord contains hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), or cord blood stem cells, and also mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), in this case known as cord tissue stem cells.
After birth, the blood left in the placenta and umbilical cord is called cord blood. Cord blood is easy to collect, and contains blood-forming stem cells called HSCs. These cells are responsible for the production of different blood cells, such as white cells, red cells, and platelets. They are currently approved for use in therapy for over eighty diseases and conditions.
Along with banking cord blood, families also have the option to also bank a section of the actual tissue that makes up the umbilical cord. Cord tissue is a rich source of MSCs, which can form connective tissues. They can easily expand (multiply) in number, and can differentiate into a wide variety of cell types including bone, cartilage, muscle, and nerves.
There is much interest in these powerful cells, but not just for their therapeutic promise. They also have tremendous value in helping us understand more about diseases, and also in helping researchers test new drugs for safety and effectiveness. As we move forward, stem cells will continue to play a growing role in the direction of research, and future medical therapies.