If you could help to ensure the future health of your child with minimal cost and effort, would you do it? What about if you had the power to help your child grow into adulthood with a handy resource for combating life-threatening diseases? Any caring parent or grandparent wants to help a precious new member of the family to grow up happily and healthily; and with new innovations in medical technology, that specific dream is becoming increasingly possible. More than ever before, it's achievable for those with busy lives, an average income and a growing family.
One kind of technology in particular is offering modern parents a certain peace of mind and the chance to invest in their family's future. Not only does it offer a potential way to improve or cure serious health problems in a child, but it could also provide lifesaving treatments to other family members. It's called cord blood banking, and it involves the collection and storage of cells found in the blood supply of a new baby's umbilical cord, which are gathered at birth using a straightforward and totally painless procedure.
Cord blood banking uses blood from this part of a baby's body because it's a rich source of stem cells, which act as 'building blocks', or master cells, for the construction of blood, tissues and the immune system. Unlike other kinds of cells, stem cells have the ability to transform themselves into whatever kind of specific cell is required by the body at any particular time. Consequently, they act as a biological repair system, because they can be used to regenerate cells to reconstruct any damaged or diseased organs or tissues, whenever that becomes necessary.
The most widely publicized use of stem cells is in bone marrow transplants. In fact, over the last twenty years or so, stem cell transplants have been shown to also successfully repair heart tissue, and to cure many red and white blood cell diseases, as well as cancers such as leukemia. They have also been used to treat bone disorders such as osteoporosis. In the near future, stem cell transplants may well become the treatment of choice for many diseases, in the same way that antibiotics are currently used to clear up a range of illnesses.
For this reason, public funding bodies and medical research organizations have invested heavily in stem cell technology. Scientists believe stem cells will soon be a valuable resource for treating problems such as multiple sclerosis; Parkinson's disease; diabetes (including children's diabetes); Alzheimer's; stroke; muscle damage; and heart disease or damage to the heart's muscles incurred during a heart attack. They also hope to utilize them in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.
Cord blood banking anticipates this medical development by storing blood for future use. If you keep a supply of your baby's stem cells, or the blood that contains the stem cells, through cord blood banking, you are offering your child a way to access lifesaving cells in the future, should they need treatment for dozens of different kinds of diseases or injuries. In addition, it's likely that these cells will prove to be an exact match for close family members who may also need them, as stem cell transplants have been used to effectively treat both children and adults.
Ensuring you have your own supply of healthy stem cells through cord blood banking could mean you will never have to search for a matching cell donor at a public blood bank. Public donors for cord blood banking are relatively few and far between; and these sorts of matching procedures can be very time-consuming. There is also no guarantee that doctors will be able to find an exact match for you or your family from public donations when one is most urgently needed.
It's particularly important for those from ethnic minorities to donate to public cord blood banking organizations. That's because those from particular ethnic backgrounds, and those with certain kinds of ethnically mixed ancestry, have an especially difficult time finding a matching donor. African-American patients, for example, are much less likely to find a matched, unrelated bone marrow donor and are therefore wise to invest in keeping a private stem cell supply. Fortunately, with umbilical cord blood, a partial match is acceptable, and if enough non-Caucasians and those of mixed heritage donate, the chances of finding a match are much higher.
Cord blood cells are not the same as the controversial embryonic stem cells, and cord blood banking does not involve the use of embryonic cells in any way. Embryonic cells, as the name suggests, are taken from human embryos that are typically four or five days old. Specifically, they are harvested from embryos developed from eggs that have been fertilized in an in vitro fertilization clinic, and then donated for research purposes. They can also be taken from aborted fetuses, or created using a certain kind of cloning technique.
Embryonic stem cell research (unlike cord blood banking and research) has attracted a fair amount of controversy because it often involves the destruction of the embryo from which the cells are taken. In contrast, cord blood banking and research has not attracted negative publicity, because cord stem cells can be isolated from the blood of a newborn's umbilical cord without any negative effect on mother or child. For this reason, it has attracted more public support than embryonic stem cell research, as well as greater levels of government funding and a stronger endorsement from most sectors of the scientific community.
Cord blood banking is clearly a valuable resource and looks set to become the face of medical science in the near future. It offers the chance for positive action, to those wanting easy access to a natural product that could help their children and other family members when they are most in need. Put simply, it's a way to insure the future health of your nearest and dearest against common but potentially life-threatening illness. For those thinking ahead, cord blood banking really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.