In 99 percent of births, the umbilical cord is discarded. Yet research has shown that stem cells taken from umbilical cords can have treatment implications for cerebral palsy, diabetes, heart disease, blood disorders, and other conditions.
The young stem cells in cord blood have not begun to form specific types of tissues (e.g., skin, muscle, organs) and thus may grow into virtually any tissue in the human body. While harvesting embryonic stem cells may destroy an embryo, cord blood cells are gathered after the birth of a baby, causing no harm to the child or mother.
This article tells a story of a family storing blood with the hope of treating their young daughter with cerebral palsy-like symptoms such as difficulty grasping objects and the inability to walk, sit up or eat.
Such private storage is discouraged by many, though, who say a child is unlikely to need his or her own cord blood stem cells, and that private blood banks target vulnerable parents. Public donations are praised by many because they have the ability to help more families – but those donated cells may not be available to the donating families down the road.
Public or private, the real question is, “Why are so many umbilical cords being discarded?” Whether stored for one family or publicly to potentially help many, cord-blood stem cells are a valuable medical resource that should not be thrown out without a second thought.