A few decades ago, umbilical cords were viewed as medical waste that would be normally discarded after the birth of a child. Fast forward a few years and umbilical cords are saving the lives of hundreds cancer patients each year.
This remarkable turnaround is thanks to the research efforts of thousands of scientists, who have discovered uses for the valuable stem cells inside of umbilical cord blood. In additional to helping cancer patients, umbilical cords are saving the lives of patients with blood disorders, metabolic disorders, and immune system disorders.
Umbilical cord blood can treat these conditions because of the haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) that it contains. HSCs are the cells which create blood cells within the human body. Doctors use these cells to restore a patient’s ability to produce healthy blood cells after they have received chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat their cancer.
HSCs can help people with immune system disorders, immune system disorders and metabolic disorders in the same way, by restoring the body’s ability to create healthy healthy cells.
HSCs are also found in bone marrow, which remains the most common source of cells used to treat cancer patients. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find a compatible bone marrow donor for some patients. Which brings us to another reason why umbilical cords are saving the lives of so many people — they are less likely to trigger an immune system response in the recipient. Unlike bone marrow, a cord blood sample doesn’t have to be completely compatible to be used.
Researchers are also examining other types of cells within umbilical cord blood, including mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). MSCs are capable of turning into a variety of other cell types including fat cells and bone cells. In the future, they may be used to treat many other conditions including heart disease and osteoarthritis.