Freezing stem cells in umbilical cord blood

Freezing umbilical cord blood to preserve the stem cells within it requires little effort, is not painful or harmful, is quite affordable and can save your child’s life. More and more Dutch people are choosing it (think of Maxima and Bridget Maasland), although most experts say it makes little sense and opponents even speak of defamation of the people.

Umbilical cord blood and stem cells

Stem cells are the basic cells of our body. The stem cells still have the ability to divide and can grow important things such as blood, cartilage or sperm. A considerable amount of these stem cells are found in the blood of the umbilical cord after birth. Medical science is very busy with research into stem cells, the hope is that in a few years certain diseases will be curable through stem cell therapy. Stem cells are used in the treatment of leukemia, lymphatic cancer and blood diseases such as thalassemia, immune deficiencies and aplastic anemia . already used successfully. After radiation or chemotherapy, which also destroy the good cells, the patient is given stem cells that grow into new healthy cells. What can be a problem when treating a patient with stem cells is finding a matching donor , stem cells from your own umbilical cord always match. Hence the idea of freezing the blood from the umbilical cord for personal use. Because if your child were to develop a disease that can only be treated with stem cells, it could be life-saving to have the appropriate stem cells from his or her umbilical cord blood available.

How useful is freezing?

But how realistic is the chance that your child will develop a disease in the future that can be treated with stem cells from his or her own umbilical cord blood? According to the experts, it is just under zero but extremely, extremely small. First of all, the number of stem cells that can be extracted from umbilical cord blood is not large enough to treat a large child or an adult. Supplementing with stem cells from a donor’s umbilical cord blood is not an option due to the graft versus host effect that will then occur: the body sees the donated stem cells as foreign and will try to destroy these cells. Another reason why it is often not possible to use your own stem cells from the umbilical cord blood is that certain diseases are already present in the embryonic blood. This is especially the case with those forms of leukemia that mainly occur in young children. Finally, collecting umbilical cord blood correctly is not that easy. In England, 30% of frozen blood turned out to be bacterially contaminated and therefore unusable.

What is not yet can come?

Science does not stand still. The hope is that in the future, several serious diseases will be treatable with stem cell therapy. So perhaps freezing stem cells makes little sense given the current state of science, but who’s to say that the situation won’t be completely different in about ten years’ time? But this argument is also unconvincing. Research is developing in the opposite direction. In 2002, for example, a research group led by Catherine Verfaille succeeded in growing new divisible cells from bone marrow. Other scientists have also managed to reproduce this. This method, which is independent of the age of the donor, will completely eliminate the need to freeze umbilical cord blood. An umbilical cord blood bank to which young parents can selflessly donate umbilical cord blood and which everyone who needs it can use free of charge seems to be a more efficient and fairer alternative.