From bad blood to good: Cord blood stem cells at work

The love and care of parents may be said to have no limits, but all of them would rather want their children to be healthy. No parent would want the heartbreak cause by seeing their children suffering from diseases, especially more complex and life-threatening ones, such as blood-related cancers and blood disorders. There are a variety of treatments for such life-threatening diseases, one of which is hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.

Cord blood and blood-related cancers
Cord blood stem cells, for one, are widely utilized in stem cell transplantations because of the hematopoietic stem cell (HSCs) that are derived from umbilical cord blood. HSCs, also found in bone marrow, replenish blood, regenerate the immune system, and can differentiate into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This is why blood-related cancer patients sometimes receive HSC transplantation after chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which otherwise kill healthy blood cells.

Blood-related cancers include Leukemia, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Myeloma. Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer worldwide, as well as in the Philippines.

A birth, cord blood can be collected via a simple extraction from the vein of the umbilical cord. The cord blood stem cell used for stem cell transplantation may come from the patient’s sibling, medically also known as allogeneic use, or from the patient himself, known as autologous use.

Case 1: Cord blood to rescue
In 2001, Ryan Foo was suffering from leukemia at a tender age of three. Despite a nationwide search for bone marrow stem cells in Singapore, a suitable donor could not be found. Fortunately, baby sister of Ryan, Rachel, was born during that critical period, and her cord blood was collected, processed and stored prior to being used for Ryan’s transplantation in Singapore in 200. It was a blessing that Rachel was a perfect match to Ryan. Ryan has been in remission ever since.

Here in the Philippines, stem cell transplantations are performed at key tertiary institutions such as St. Luke’s Medical Center. According to the Philippine Journal of Medicine, in 2005, a cord blood transplant was performed at St. Luke’s, the first of its kind in the Philippines, for a nine-year old female patient suffering from acute myelogenous leukemia following a relapse. It took a year to find a suitably matched cord blood unit from a public cord blood bank in Japan.

Cord blood and blood disorders
HSCs are also being utilized to treat blood disorders, such as thalassemia, aplastic anemia and sickle cell anemia. In the case of thalassemia, it is an inherited blood disorder that affects one’s ability to produce hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen and nutrients to the body

According to the United States National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), an estimated 100,000 babies around the world are born with severe forms of thalassemia yearly.

People with thalassemia can be completely cured by bne marrow transplants. However, the NHGRI says only a small minority of patients who have suitable donors can avail of it because of the risk involved, which could result to death.

Case 2: Cord blood as lifesaver
Moinam Pal from India is an example of how cord blood stem cells can be an effective treatment for thalassemia. When he was barely a year old, Moinam was diagnosed with thalassemia, known to take the lives of most children before they become 10 if left untreated.

The cord blood stem cells of Moinam’s newborn sister were also perfect match to Moinam. Since HSC transplantation in 2011, Moinam has fully recovered.

“The case of Moinam is proof of how powerful cord blood stem cells are, and its life-saving benefits,” said Dr. Arvin Faundo, Medical director of Cordlife Philippines.

source: Philippine Star
Health & Medicine


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