In 1998 a young boy in Atlanta received the first unrelated cord blood transplant to treat his sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is a disorder that affects minorities, mainly African Americans. It is an inherited disorder that is indicated by red blood cells being abnormal in shape. Most people born with sickle cell anemia can expect frequent blood transfusions to relieve the constant pain and danger of stroke, seizures, infections and fevers. The problem is that after a while the transfusions are no longer effective.
Sickle Cell Disease Treatment
The fact that using cord blood for treating sickle cell disease is a viable option for controlling the disease is monumental for many reasons.
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after a baby is born. Once the umbilical cord is cut there is extra blood that is not needed by the baby, and the blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma. The blood is also rich in stem cells just like the ones found in the marrow of bones. What this means is that this cord blood can be used the same as bone marrow in treating certain disorders.
More importantly, cord blood used for transplantations does not have to be an exact match to the recipient. Partial match transplants have been performed successfully. The importance of this fact in sickle cell disease treatment is significant.
Using cord blood for treating sickle cell disease could prevent a person with the disease from living a life of pain, especially if they can be treated early in life.
Fetal hemoglobin is the hemoglobin that is found in the fetus and cord blood. This fetal hemoglobin has the ability to prevent red blood cells from sickling, resulting in sickle cell anemia. Infants that have this transplant will have significantly reduced symptoms of the illness, and adults that have sickle cell but are treated with fetal hemoglobin will have a milder sickle cell anemia.
While the cord blood is promising for sickle cell disease treatment, there are still problems that exist. Adolescents and adults need a larger number of the cells and there is only a small volume being collected. The number of viable cells collected from cord blood is low compared to those collected from bone marrow. Cord blood can also transmit other blood or immune system genetic diseases, so screening is necessary. Though it is not known exactly the length of time cord blood remains viable, there does not seem to be any real consideration about storing the cord blood; so far samples have remained viable after 16 years.
Cord blood also can be used to treat certain cancers, blood disorders and immune disorders.