Today's medicine, tommorrow's health?

Dr Giles Davies, Clinical Director of Cells4Life, discusses the reasons and benefits for the future of umbilical cord blood storage
Cells4Life are experts in Stem cell Storage and Cord Blood Banking.

As prospective parents, we wanted to give our babies the best gift we could. And as doctors, we knew we could give them something special, something that may one day safeguard their health or even save their lives. We chose to store their stem cells, which is a type of insurance policy against future health problems. For this reason, Jeff Drew, a leading research scientist in molecular biology and Dr Giles Davies, a consultant surgeon, founded Cells4Life.

But what makes stem cells such a fantastic gift?

Stem cells are known as 'naïve' cells, this means they can change into many different kinds of cells found in the body. Serving as a sort of repair system for the body, they can pretty much divide without limit to replace other cells. When a stem cell divides, each new cell can either stay as a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specific function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, even a brain cell, in fact any cell found in the human body.

Due to their unique ability, stem cells have been used successfully as part of the treatment for blood disorders like leukaemia since 1988, as an alternative to bone marrow transplantation. If a child whose stem cells have been stored develops leukaemia, they can use their own cells for treatment, safe in the knowledge that they are a perfect match.

Where are stem cells found?

The richest source of stem cells is the umbilical cord and these stem cells have the ability to change into, among other things, red or white blood cells. These live-giving properties have prompted a number of private companies to offer frozen storage of these cells from umbilical cord blood collected at birth.

At birth, once your baby has been delivered, the nurse or midwife will collect the blood from the umbilical cord for storage. Using our procedures the collection process is safe, easy and painless for both mother and baby, and doesn't interfere with the delivery or aftercare of the mother or baby. The blood is then taken to a lab for processing within 24 hours of collection, before being cryogenically frozen. This allows the protection and storage of the stem cells for many years, ready for use at any time in the future should your child need them.

What are stem cells used for?

Ongoing research using these cells has shown that they could treat over 70 different medical conditions. Encouraging results have been found in the treatment of a wide variety of different medical conditions including cancer, bone fractures, burns, strokes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntingdon disease, diabetes and many more. Just imagine the possibilities in ten or twenty years. New research into stem cell use is already showing encouraging outcomes, in such fields as regenerating organs, repairing damaged muscle tissue and tendons, and helping create skin grafts for burns' victims

The storage of stem cells can be priceless in certain high risk cases, such as where there is a known hereditary disease within the family that is treatable by stem cell transplantation. It's the future therapeutic possibilities of stem cells, as well as the already known treatable conditions, that have motivated the thousands that have already taken up this service in the UK.

Most of these private companies take a one off payment and then store the blood for 25 years for use by the child and its siblings if needed. Once the 25 years are up, it becomes the child's (now an adult) choice whether to continue with storage for a small annual fee.

The storage of a baby's umbilical cord blood is a once in a lifetime opportunity to save these precious cells that could offer the gift of health or even life in some cases.
The current research results are encouraging for the future, especially when you think of the medical achievements of the last twenty years. In recent years the first face transplant has taken place, the first test tube baby has been born and the first beating heart transplant has also been achieved.

The world is your child's oyster and the future could hold anything. As they get older, your ability to protect them and their health lessens. Although you may not be able to protect them for the rest of their lives but you can give them the best possible start. By storing their stem cells now, you would be giving your child a further assurance for their health which can last a lifetime.

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