Imagine for a moment the possibility of treatment that could heal spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury, such as cerebral palsy. A hope patiently awaiting a resolution to the debate on the future of embryonic stem cell research is breathing new life as the availability of umbilical cord blood storage increases.
Though the research with adult type stem cells, such as those found in discarded umbilical cords and placentas, has been ongoing for more than 50 years, according to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, the possibility of donating stem cells — or storing the stem cells for personal use — is starting to hit mainstream.
Used widely for certain cancers, like leukemia, and blood disorders, stem cells from cord blood have been used to treat more than 45 disorders to date, says the March of Dimes. In fact, stem cells are the key to successful bone marrow transplantations (BMTs) because they continue to manufacture blood cells indefinitely, says the March of Dimes.
Like bone marrow, cord blood is enriched with stem cells, the building blocks of blood and the immune system. Stem cells are unspecialized blood cells that reproduce all other blood cells, like red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body; white blood cells, which fight infections; and platelets, which are necessary for clotting.
Importantly, stem cells represent a potentially powerful resource for regenerating brain cells, as well as a number of other cell types in the human body. As a result, stem cells derived from cord blood potentially could treat many ailments.
“Research shows that this virtually limitless supply of stem cells could become any type of cell and could be used to treat diseases ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease,” Matthew Schissler, chairman and CEO of Cord Blood America, Los Angeles, the parent company of Cord Partners, said in a news release. Cord Partners facilitates umbilical cord blood stem cell preservation for expectant parents and their children.
Scientists at The University of California at Los Angeles have published original research demonstrating that adipose stem cells can be turned into nerve cells. University of Virginia research suggests that these adipose-derived stem cells can be used to repair or regenerate new blood vessels, cardiac muscle, nerves and bones — potentially helping heart attack victims, patients with brain and spinal cord injuries, and people with osteoporosis. Duke University scientists are among the many who have published studies suggesting that stem cells obtained from human fat tissues, from liposuction for example, are capable of being transformed into nerve cells that could be used to treat brain and spinal cord injuries.
Several studies, such as a recent study from Spain published in March, have shown that umbilical cord blood transplantation improves mobility in rats with spinal cord injury, according to Stem Cell Week.
“There currently is no reparative therapy for traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. James Baumgartner, associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical School and University of Texas Health Sciences Center. “When we have something that is the first hope on the horizon, that’s an immense step in the right direction because it potentially changes the paradigm on how we think about treating one of the biggest causes of morbidity for children. Suddenly, we have an option, when before we had nothing.”
While all stem cells work similarly — by “regenerating” healthy cells to replace diseased ones — stems cells derived from a newborn’s own umbilical cord blood provide certain medical advantages, and collection poses no risk to the infant or the mother.
“It is impossible to predict outcomes in babies born at risk for neurological injury,” said Dr. Robert Sears, M.D., author, pediatrician and CBR medical adviser. “However, we can collect newborn stem cells from the umbilical cord immediately following the birth, and if a disability becomes evident, parents and doctors can use the cells to try and repair the damaged brain tissue. The hope is that we can lessen the severity of any potential disabilities and give these children a far better quality of life.”
The Newborn Possibilities Program, a program recently launched by Cord Blood Registry, a newborn stem cell bank in San Bruno, Calif., hopes to address cerebral palsy by offering a free program to all parents in the United States. Through the program, children with a low Apgar score, who may have an increased risk of developing neurological disabilities, will be accepted into the program. An Apgar score is a routine assessment used at the time of birth to evaluate a newborn’s physical condition.
Expectant parents have the option of donating cord blood into a national database or storing the cord blood, for a fee, for personal use — including for siblings and other relatives.
To find out more about Cord Blood America Inc., visit www.cordpartners.com. The Newborn Possibilities Program can be contacted at www.newbornpossibilities.com.