What Is A Stem Cell?

A stem cell is a cell capable of becoming another more differentiated cell type in the body, such as a skin cell, a muscle cell or a nerve cell. Because of their ability to become different types of cells they offer us the greatest potential to treat degenerative conditions and illness that affect us all – spinal cord damage, sports injuries, bone, cartilage and tendon damage, blood cancer, diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, arthritis, blindness, stroke and heart disease.

Different Types Of Stem Cells

1. Adult Stem Cells

Adult stem cells are found in some adult tissues such as skin, muscle, intestine and bone marrow, and they can replace cells that die or restore tissue after injury. Adult stem cells are tissue-specific, meaning they are found in a given tissue or organ. For example adult stem cells from the liver can only make more liver cells. This particular type of stem cells is used in a few therapies, for example bone marrow or cord blood stem cell transplantation.

2. Cord Blood Stem Cells

Cord blood stem cells are found in the blood in the umbilical cord, and are currently used to treat diseases of the blood or to restore the blood system. Unlike adult stem cells, they can be grown indefinitely in the laboratory, giving researchers an unlimited supply.

3. Embryonic Stem Cells

Embryonic stem cells are derived from early embryos and can in theory develop into all cell types in the body. However, although these cells are helping us to understand diseases, there are currently no treatments using embryonic stem cells accepted by the medical community.

4. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS cells)

iPS cells have been 'reprogrammed' from cells in the body to behave like embryonic stem cells. Like embryonic stem cells, iPS cells have the ability to become all cell types in the body, and they are a powerful tool for creating patient and disease specific cell lines for research.

Cord Blood Donations

Everyday, we receive calls from members of the public interested in donating cord blood but are not quite sure how to do it. This section is meant to help people better understand cord blood donations.

Cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord following the birth of your baby. After your baby is born the placenta (and all the cord blood in it) is normally thrown away, although it is rich in blood stem cells that can be used to treat many different cancers and immune deficiencies.

The collection of cord blood is completely safe for both mother and baby as the collection is made AFTER the baby is born, AFTER the cord is cut and AFTER the placenta has been delivered. Donating cord blood is free and yet it can potentially save the lives of people affected by serious conditions like malignancies, bone marrow failure, immunodeficiencies and metabolic disorders.

Private Or Public?

When considering donating cord blood it is important to understand the difference between private and public facilities.

Publicly or government funded facilities, such as the NHS Cord Blood Bank and the Anthony Nolan Cord Blood Bank, collect cord blood from public hospitals, free of charge to the donor. The product is then stored indefinitely for possible transplant. This unit is available for any patient that needs this particular special tissue type. There is no charge to the donor but the product is not stored specifically for that person or their family.

Private facilities, on the other hand, allow the donors to store their cord blood (upon paying a registration and an annual fee) in case a family member becomes sick with a stem cell-treatable disease in the future. It is important to point out that the chances of ever needing a cord blood transplant are very slim.

If you require more information on cord blood donation, we encourage you to visit the NHS Cord Blood Bank website, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists or the Anthony Nolan Trust. Anthony Nolan collects cord blood from consenting mothers in an expanding group of NHS maternity hospitals (currently in London, Birmingham and Leicester), which can then be used for lifesaving transplants for patients suffering from leukaemia and other serious blood disorders.

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