I was contacted by Cells 4 Life the experts in stem cell processing a couple of months ago regarding an article on Cord Blood Banking. As a writer, the general rule of thumb is to either write about what you know or write about something you have an interest in and in the case of cord blood banking, this is the latter. As someone who spends their day writing articles on pregnancy, I jumped at this opportunity. During both my previous pregnancies going back to 2012 and 2016 I was vaguely aware of the ability that stem cells have, to not only improve lives but to save millions of lives too.
However, I’ll be honest; at that time in my life it just wasn’t something I put a lot of thought into.
The journalist in me thrives on research and thorough investigation and writing an article on a subject I have little to no personal familiarity with has been not only enlightening but educational as well.
It has also forced me to delve deep into my own personal feelings and assess the decision I made six years ago, knowing I can never go back in time and change my mind. It is a decision I will have to live with and one in which I hope I never live to regret.
This post has also given me greater insight and to open my eyes even further into the miracle that is the human body.
Let’s talk a little about stem cells first. Stem cells can heal, replace and regenerate tissues within the human body and when a tissues function has been lost or destroyed by either illness or injury, stem cells can repair the damaged tissues function. The truly remarkable thing about stem cells is their ever-advancing proficiency to become any cell within the human body-whether that be blood, muscle, nerve, cartilage and so much more, working in harmony to aid the body in repairing itself.
Stem cells were discovered in the late 17th century and since then the medical world has progressed at an alarming rate beyond all recognition, with the first ever cell transplant taking place in New York in 1950.
Since the very beginning of this ground-breaking innovation, stem cells have been used in over a million transplants worldwide, being used in the daily treatment of a wide range of immune diseases.
“Not only have stem cells been used to save thousands of lives since 1956, they are now considered to be the future of medicine” Extract from Cells 4 Life Parents Guide to Cord Blood Banking
The concept of cord blood stem cells was first introduced by the world-renowned Dr Hal Broxmeyer, whom in 1988 used cord blood to save the life of a five-year-old boy suffering with the rare genetic disease Fanconi Anaemia which, causes an impaired response to DNA damage and since then cord blood has been used in almost 40,000 transplants.
So, what is it about the blood in our baby’s umbilical cord that makes it so unbelievably special?
The stem cells that are taken from the umbilical cord are the most efficient and effective cells available to us and they have the capacity to differentiate themselves into the widest range of stem cell types. Because they are genetically matched to your baby, they have the means to replace any cells that are damaged or injured without the risk of rejection and any long-term impediments.
Upon looking into this further I came across some staggering statistics, for example, did you know that in the US alone there are almost 125,000 people currently waiting for lifesaving organ transplants and of those, 100,000 are for kidney transplants. It’s insane for me to visualise that over 3000 new patients are added to that list every day or to put it another way – 1 person every 14 minutes.
8000 of those patients will become too ill or sadly die waiting to receive a transplant and for those who are fortunate enough to find a matched donor, 20% of those transplants will fail within five years.
It’s an awful statistic to comprehend and as a parent, I have at times had those thoughts that enter my mind when I’m tried stressed and my kids are ill with a stomach bug where I wonder ‘ what if this isn’t just a stomach bug’
The thought that one day my children may develop an illness whereby they need a transplant, whether that be an organ transplant or a bone marrow transplant is a thought that is too hard to abide and I am thankful every day that my children are healthy, but lately I have encountered two friends whose children are battling life threatening illnesses and I don’t know how the parents of sick children find the strength to remain strong and positive in such heart wrenching adversity.
We didn’t bank our children’s cord blood
We didn’t bank our children’s cord blood but there is a huge part of me that now regrets that decision. Of course I wish nothing more that it will never be needed, although shall I ever be faced with the agonising news that my child is ill and requires some form of stem cell replacement, I know I will struggle with that decision for the rest of my life.
To know that there is a 1 in 4 chance that a child’s cord blood stem cells can be a match for their brother or sister, and to know if I had made that decision, my baby’s cord blood stem cells may be waiting and ready for release shall they or their sibling ever need them.
Every year we spend thousands of pounds on life insurance, car insurance, holiday insurance, wedding insurance and dental insurance and every year, thankfully many of us will not need to cash our policies in, but we will not dream of getting in a car and driving without insurance or travelling without holiday insurance.
Yet, let’s call it ‘biological insurance’ this is an insurance that for some reason we tend to over-look.
From the research I’ve carried out to produce this post; I have seen figures bouncing around from £2000-£3000 for private banking facilities. This sum is for not only the collection of blood but for the testing of blood and then from what I have seen there is an approximate figure of £100 annually to store that blood.
I currently pay £ 30.00 a month in car insurance and let’s say I continue to drive for the next thirty years, plus taking into account the constant hike in my premium year on year, I will be forking out roughly £15,000 in car insurance and in the twenty years I’ve been driving already, I have only ever made one claim.
It’s a crap analogy I know, in comparison to the subject of a life-threatening illness of one of our children but for me this really hit home.
Missing a crucial opportunity
Have I missed a crucial opportunity to insure my child’s health and life shall they ever need a stem cell transplant because of a blood cancer, bone marrow failure or the countless other metabolic diseases they may development during their lifetime?
In 40 years maybe when all mothers and fathers do not have to make the decision and it’s a standard practice to bank the cord blood of our baby’s, when I’m long gone and my grown up children or their children need treatment, will my children wonder why we didn’t make that decision. I guess it’s one I will need to live with and hope and pray it never happens.
With the life expectancy rising, there is a high probability that our babies could be the first generation to live beyond a hundred. Currently there are 6500 clinical trials investigating the use of stem cells in regeneration therapy to treat a vast range of diseases – conditions that may not even begin until our children are in their later years, Alzheimer’s, stroke, diabetes, cancers all conditions we hear about daily and for all of us know someone with one of these conditions now.
In forty years’, time, the cord blood we bank today could help eradicate or treat these diseases.
In an ideal world
I don’t want this post to be one of alarm and panic and in no way is it aimed at trying to get any of my pregnant followers to run out and sign up to anything, its down to each individual to carry out their own due diligence, weigh up the costs and make a decision that is right for them. I do, however, think that if I had carried out my own research, I may have made a different decision.
In an ideal world I’d like to see this service offered to everyone on the NHS, however we don’t live in an ideal world do we. For those that make the decision not to bank their baby’s cord blood, those stems cells can still be donated free of charge to public cord banking centres and those stem cells will be used to go on to save thousands of lives.
I can’t speak for the information readily available to expectant parents now, but during my pregnancy I would have liked to have seen the information available, to have had access to leaflets and brochures in my maternity packs and to have had at least the options presented to me about my baby’s cord blood and the choices available to either bank or donate to a public centre if I had chosen to do so.
Cells 4 Life is the UK’s number one private centre and one of the longest serving cord blood banks in Europe. Find out everything you need to know about stem cell banking. Compare Cells 4 Life with other private cord blood banks in the UK and find out why they stand out from the rest.