Stem Cells and umbilical cord blood and such

Here is an interesting article on stem cells. They say “adult stem cells” — I suppose to separate them from the morally challenging “embryonic stem cells” — but in the article, they mention both placentas and umbilical cord blood as places to get some of the adult (? — wouldn’t that be “infant”?) stem cells. Ok, they’re just stem cells, but we’ll call them “adult” to make clear that embryos are not destroyed to harvest them. There is so much potential in adult stem cells that it boggles my mind. Some months back, I read of a woman who used her own stem cells to grow an esophagus (I think hers had been eaten away by cancer). Wow! And, since they were her own cells, the transplant didn’t need anti-rejection medication or anything. Isn’t that cool? We live in such an awesome and amazing age!

One of the stories in the article was of a young child whose parents had banked the umbilical cord blood, and then used the stem cells from that in a trial to help him after he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of 8 months. While I’m glad this little boy was able to be helped, I just want to scream that he needed his cord blood to start with! Here’s an excerpt from the story:

He was accepted in a clinical trial at Duke University in July 2007 and was among the first in the country to be intravenously infused with his own cord blood stem cells to induce healing in his brain. Soon after his procedure Dallas’ parents began noticing improvements. Today, with the help of therapists, Dallas is doing things no one thought possible. He runs, he laughs, and he’s beginning to talk.

Yay! BUT it seems that all they did was to give him back his own cord blood! [I’m screaming right now as I type this] Maybe he wouldn’t have developed cerebral palsy at all, if he had been given the benefit of his own cord blood in a placental/umbilical transfusion (known as keeping the cord intact until it stops pulsing, or later) at birth!!! I could be wrong. Maybe they did more than that. Maybe there was some magic to freezing the cord blood for months that helped him overcome his cerebral palsy. But maybe there is just magic in umbilical cord blood that the child needs!! The real question does not need to be, “How can we get more parents to bank their child’s umbilical cord blood just in case they ever need the stem cells in it,” but rather, “Why are children deprived of these wonderful and almost magical stem cells at birth?!”

A chairman of a facility that stores umbilical cord blood was quoted as saying, “When babies are born, the umbilical cord is generally discarded. This is partly because pregnant women and many of their doctors are unaware that life science has demonstrated cord blood cells have immense therapeutic value. Increasingly families are educating themselves about cryogenic storage of their child’s cord blood because they understand recent progress has revealed it is a safe and ethical source of stem cells for therapeutic use and the technology is evolving rapidly. These cells can be cryogenically stored for more than 30 years. It’s a one-time opportunity.” [emphasis mine]

Yeah, if you’re going to have your child’s umbilical cord clamped shut immediately after birth, why not save the stem cells? (Aside from the expense involved and the low likelihood that he’ll ever need them.) But let’s just think a tiny bit outside of the box, shall we? WHY have your child’s umbilical cord cut short as soon as he is born? WHY NOT let him have his full stem cell transfusion from the placenta to start with?

Besides, the article also listed numerous other ways to get stem cells [there are even some in fat cells, which prompted me to joke, “Hey, I’m not having liposuction — I’m harvesting stem cells! :-)], which makes me think that if a baby needs stem cells and for whatever reason his cord blood was not banked, it seems like stem cells could be taken from other parts of his body (although, yes, it is more invasive than getting cord blood from a placenta or umbilical cord — but remember, the likelihood of his needing stem cells for any reason is low, but in my opinion the likelihood of his needing his full complement of blood from his placenta is nearly 100%). The woman mentioned above who got a second esophagus grown from her own stem cells did not have a placenta or umbilical cord from which to harvest her stem cells. Wherever they got hers from, I can imagine they could get some from a baby, if need be.

Besides, it said in the article that stem cells can be gotten from the placenta! Placentas are usually destroyed after being examined after birth at a hospital. Hmm, okay, let’s walk through this hypothetical situation. A baby is born and the cord is immediately clamped, so that his cord blood can be banked for all those wonderful stem cells, thus depriving him of his own full complement of stem cells that he really could use in those first months, not to mention the oxygen to help him easily transition to life outside the womb, etc. Then the placenta is pulled out, examined for completeness (and to make sure there are no other problems), the umbilical cord is stuck with a needle so that the cord blood can be drawn out and saved, and then the placenta (with cord) is put into a biohazard bag and discarded. Whew! We saved the cord blood with all those lovely stem cells, so that if the baby develops cancer or one of these other one in a million problems, we’ve got stem cells for therapy. Um, not so fast. How ’bout if instead, we give the baby all of his cord blood with the stem cell transfusion and oxygen, and then after a few hours, put the placenta in a freezer, and then if it is needed, it can be pulled out and thawed and the stem cells harvested then. Hmm — sounds like your average home birth to me!🙂

[Yes, I’m sure that there is more involved in cryogenically preserving a placenta or umbilical cord blood than just throwing it in the family freezer or a deep freeze…. Or at least, I hope there is, considering how expensive cryogenic storage is!]

Many people, me included, have significant moral and ethical problems with destroying embryos so that their stem cells can be taken and used. I also have a significant medical-ethical (but not moral) problem with saving the cord blood for the stem cells while destroying the placenta (which also has stem cells), instead of, y’know, giving the baby the blood at birth while saving the now-discarded and unnecessary placenta for those stem cells. Hmm, ya think?!


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5 Responses

  1. like it or not, there are millions of abortions been done internationally in a year. have anyone wondered if all these dead embryos could be just recycled??? can this happen and if yes, then would it be ethical to do it? in the other hand the biggest percentage of stem cells research is being done using these poor dead things in order the rest of us to be able to live in good health. could you do that to your own embryo while pregnant to a wanted child just to help a beloved one or yourself improving health???

    • I do not think it would be ethical, because it would end up encouraging abortions so that this kind of work can continue. We may use the knowledge gained in Hitler’s horrible Holocaust experiments to help other people, but that doesn’t make the experiments either moral or ethical. If they were still going on (as abortion is continuing to exist), I trust we would all shrink back in horror at the idea that we should use people doomed to die to further our scientific or medical knowledge. After all, if the Holocaust victims were going to die one way or another, why not use them for human experimentation? Does it really matter whether the humans involved in the death and potential medical experiments in Hitler’s Germany were embryos, infants, toddlers, adolescents, adults, or elders? And, yes, Hitler experimented on embryos — pregnant Jews were submitted to experiments to see how they and their embryos and fetuses reacted to things. Does it matter whether the embryos and fetuses that were experimented upon were still within the women at the time of the experimentation?

      I see no difference between the unborn and the born — it is just as immoral and unethical to kill an innocent embryo as an innocent infant, toddler, adolescent, or adult.

  2. This is an interesting post! I have to disagree that a baby should remain connected to the cord to receive the stem cells from it! If that baby is born with a disease there are many other steps involved in a stem cell transplant besides just transfusing the stem cells! Most of the time the child will have to endure several other treatments such as radiation and chemo before they receive the stem cells! Also if the parents choose to bank the cord blood they can also save the placenta blood. Both the cord blood and placenta blood has to be stored in liquid nitrogen for preservation! Another benefit of saving cord blood is for potential use for other family members. Yes you can get stem cells from many other areas of the body. However the stem cells found in cord blood are the youngest (newest)form of a cell which means they have been subjected to less and have a higher sucess rate! I think it is also important to mention that if private cord blood banking is not something you can afford then you have the option of public donation!

    I am a very big advocate for cord blood preservation. Cord blood saved my life and I am very blessed! Thank you for educating people on this matter! Check out http://www.nataliecurry.com to learn more about my story!

  3. Hi Kathy,
    I know this blog is old at this point but, as a placenta encapsulation specialist I have the same opinion as you about keeping the cord attached after birth and allowing the baby to receive his or her own stem cells. I am interested in learning more about “the other side” of stem cell research. Where can I find research articles/studies, books, etc that discuss the benefits of babies retaining these cells at birth versus later in life from a stem cell transplant?

    Fallon

    • I would start with Google Scholar (http://www.scholar.google.com) to look for research articles. I don’t know if there has been research, particularly in the United States, where immediate cord clamping is the norm, and with stem cell research not being very old either.

      There are studies that have looked at the difference between babies who were clamped immediately vs. delayed, but they only looked at the groups during the neonatal period, not following the children as they went through life. That would be an interesting research, study though! I hope someone will take it up. Most babies who have delayed cord clamping will also have many different characteristics, being much more likely to be born at home without drugs, as opposed to a “standard” hospital birth.

      Also, I don’t know how common it would be for children to get their own blood back as a stem cell transplant — stories I’ve heard have been of a baby’s cord blood being used to treat a sibling or an anonymous stranger.

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