Cord blood banking is a rapidly growing industry. Every mother-to-be in the country gets flooded with marketing materials from various agencies, imploring her to bank her baby’s blood with them. Cord blood testing has now become routine when a child or even an adult develops a serious illness and the cord blood is available.
Researchers across the U.S. and in other countries are conducting cord blood research to help further the uses of cord blood. Most of this research focuses on three areas: transplanting cord blood into adults or children with cancer or blood disorders, creating adult stem cells using cord blood and various forms of gene therapy.
Cord Blood Used For Transplantation
Cord blood transplantation has already been shown to cure numerous cancers and blood disorders. The problem is that it cannot always be used, even when it is available. If a child becomes ill at a very young age, the cord blood is almost always infected, as well. Adults who become ill often need more blood than is available in the bank. Currently, patients in either of these situations are forced to turn to public donor registries or public cord banks.
Researchers are working on ways to take a sample of cord blood and increase the number of stem cells using cloning or other scientific techniques. Another avenue of research is the identification of embryos which have cord blood compatible with that of a patient. Parents of a sick child could then undergo in-vitro fertilization, select a compatible embryo, carry it to term and use the cord blood to treat the ill child. Some techniques for doing this are already in trials, but they have not yet been cleared.
Cord Blood Used To Create Adult Stem Cells
Another avenue of cord blood research that is gaining a lot of attention is the creation of adult stem cells using cord blood. All cord blood contains stem cells, but they are mostly undifferentiated (generic) or blood stem cells. Adult stem cells are specialized; some create liver tissue, for example, while others create skin cells or heart cells. Scientists are trying to find a way to take the stem cells from cord blood and turn them into adult stem cells. This would potentially lead the way to custom organ creation and the treatment of many other diseases, such as heart failure. If it were possible to grow custom organs, there would be no need for transplant registries. Nor would patients be required to take drugs to prevent transplant rejection; the transplanted organs would essentially be their own, without the disease or injury.
Many diseases do not develop until later in life. Osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and rheumatoid arthritis are just a few examples of diseases that develop later on and can have devastating effects on a person. Scientists are conducting research now to determine if stem cells taken from cord blood can have an impact on any of these or a host of other conditions. Cord blood testing is also being conducted on a variety of genetic disorders.