In the Middle Ages alchemists looked for “the philosopher’s stone”, with the help of which one could easily turn everything to gold, at the same time doctors searched a medicine against all diseases, which could make people immortal. This paper aims to show that stem cells can be such a medicine.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells of an organism – are basic cells, because they take part in the development of the blocks of organs’ tissue, blood and immune system. Stem cells of a bone marrow were the first to be used for the reconstruction of blood cells and cells of the immune system of patients who underwent chemotherapy because of oncological diseases. Later, in the 80s the doctors began to use stem cells of cord blood for curing diseases which had been treated before only with the help of a bone marrow (Katsuhiro Kita, Jong O. Lee, Celeste C. Finnerty, and David N. Herndon.)
What is cord blood?
It is a common knowledge that an umbilical cord plays a very important role in the development of a child. Cord blood, moving through the vessels of an umbilical cord, supplies an embryo with oxygen and necessary nutrients. Moreover, cord blood contains more than 60 kinds of biologically active substances, fetal growth factors and most importantly – different types of stem cells in the high concentration. Cord blood is blood, which remains in the umbilical cord of a baby after cutting it, this is a rich source of unique stem cells, which can be used in medical purposes. (Cord blood stem cells: Current uses and future challenges.) The doctors often call cord blood “liquid gold” of medicine, and scientists call it the most successful achievement in the sphere of cell technologies (Umbilical Cord Blood is Liquid Gold.) Cord blood with an umbilical cord were utilized immediately after the confinement before, but nowadays parents in the whole world insist on saving stem cells of cord blood in order to provide personal reserve for their child.
What is an umbilical cord?
Umbilical cord involves mesenchymal stem cells, which differentiate and form such tissues as bone tissue, cartilage tissue and tendon tissue (Krampera, M, Pizzolo, G, Aprili, G and Franchini, M.). These cells have unique features, which make them perspective for cell therapy. Nowadays, stem cells of cord blood are successfully used and save a lot of lives. Cord blood surpasses a bone marrow in containing hemopoietic stem cells by 10 times. Moreover, they contribute to the development of a new field of medicine called regenerative medicine, which is directed on using stem cells of cord blood for experimental treatment of brain damages and juvenile diabetes (Center for Regenerative Medicine.) Stem cells are the basis of life. The first immature cells can regenerate and develop into different tissues of an organism.
All tissues and organs contain stem cells during the whole humans’ life. However, the quantity and quality of them is not the same, the younger a person, the more such cells in his/her body and the stronger their ability for differentiation. The largest reserve of stem cells is in the organism of a newborn (What cells are in umbilical cord blood.) Throughout life it is constantly consumed in the combats against infections, diseases, injuries and negative impact of the environment, which are unavoidable factors of the modern life. Nowadays, scientists consider the decrease of cell stems to be one of the causes of aging. Stem cells of cord blood are biologically younger and have advantages over the other stem cells, e.g. taken out of a bone marrow.
Advantages of using stem cells:
- The risk of complications during the transplantation is lower.
- They are accessible, and early treatment can minimize the progression of the disease.
- Freezing protects them from damage by environmental factors, age, viruses with which our stem cells come across in the course of time.
- Collecting cord blood is simple, safe and painless.
What types of stem cells are formed in an umbilical cord?
New stem cells are formed in cord blood and an umbilical cord. Cord blood is rich in hematopoietic stem cells which are the progenitors of blood-forming and immune systems. Umbilical cord tissue is a rich source of mesenchymal stem cells, which give rise to the structural and connective tissues (Krampera, M, Pizzolo, G, Aprili, G and Franchini, M.)
In the course of intrauterine development of a baby, stem cells transforming from their universal undifferentiated state, form either a nerve tissue or a muscular tissue, they also become cells of a heart or a liver, one more group of stem cells transforms to skin cells. These cells are responsible for regeneration of injured tissues in our organism. When regulating systems receive the signal about injuring, stem cells rush to the injured organ and deal with restoration of damage, partially transforming into essential for our organism cells, such as bone cells, smooth muscle cells, liver cells, cardiac muscle cells, and even nerve cells. At the same time they stimulate the inner reserves of an organism to regeneration. The hyperactivity of stem cells is also caused by their ability to multiply. However, the number of multiplications, which cell can do, is limited.
Which properties do cord blood stem cells have?
Stem cells of cord blood are much younger than homotypic cells of a bone marrow, as they are preserved in the very beginning of human’s life. Throughout life people become older and are exposed to different environmental factors, such as undergone diseases, unhealthy nutrition, sedentary way of life, etc. The same impact is reflected on the properties of stem cells in an organism. Stem cells of cord blood are collected at the earliest stages of human life, which determines their greater ability to multiply and transform into cells which organism desires. This ability makes stem cell therapy very effective.
The amount and concentration of stem cells in cord blood is higher than in such sources as a bone marrow and peripheral blood after mobilization.
Collecting cord blood is absolutely easy and painless procedure, which does not expose to risk the health of mother and baby (Cord blood stem cells: Current uses and future challenges.) At the same time, it takes two hours to perform an operation under the general anesthesia directed on collecting a bone marrow, which entails the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular distresses as well as any other operation.
Stem cells collecting
In recent years treatment with the help of cord blood stem cells is becoming more and more widely used in clinical practice due to the high concentration of stem cells, their 100% compatibility with the baby-owner, and also due to the easiness and safety of collecting. The process of cord and placental blood sampling is painless and safe for both mother and baby.
After the birth of a child, the umbilical cord is clamped and cord blood can be sampled from the umbilical cord or placenta to the special closed sterilized container. The process may take from several minutes and may be carried out if a baby was born naturally or with the help of Cesarean section. Blood is collected and quickly transported to a laboratory where the sample is examined, checked for infections, processed and frozen. The studies show that the samples may be preserved for decades or even infinitely.
The use of stem cells
Nowadays stem cells are used for the treatment of more than 80 diseases. The main diseases, which can be treated with the help of cord blood, are the diseases of blood-forming and immune systems. Stem cells can be used for potential recovery of cardiac tissue, bone tissue, or bone marrow damage.
Today, regenerative medicine rapidly develops. There exist a lot of therapies and potentially new therapies, which one could not even imagine, when cord blood banking appeared, are developed. Preclinical and early human clinical experiments on restoring the above mentioned tissues are carried out.
Here is a list of the main groups of diseases, which can be treated with the help of stem cells.
- Acute leukemia
- Chronic leukemia
- Diseases connected with pathology of proliferation of myeloidline
- Phagocytal dysfunction
- Hereditary metabolic disorders
- Hereditary disorders of the immune system
- Diseases connected with the pathology of stem cells
- Lymphoproliferative disorders
- Histiocytic dysfunction
- Hereditary abnormality of red blood cells
- Other hereditary disorders
Facts of using cord blood stem cells.
Achievements in using cord blood stem cells
- Nowadays, there are more than 450 000 samples of cord blood stem cells in donor banks, and approximately 1 million samples in private banks (Bone Marrow Transplantation.)
- 200 banks of cord blood were created (How to choose a private cord blood bank.)
- 20 000 unrelated transplantations were carried out (Gluckman, E., Ruggeri, A., Volt, F., Cunha, R., Boudjedir, K. and Rocha, V.)
- For a twenty year period of using cord blood the total survival after transplantation has become more than 2 times higher.
- Today, the proved period of preservation of a sample of cord blood, which has no effect on the ability to engraftment, is 23 years.
- There are more than 200 active registered studies connected with the effectiveness of using cord blood in the world (Cord Blood Registry.)
To sum up all the above said, it is necessary to mention that many hopes of medicine are pinned on stem cells. These cells can multiply a lot of times and ripen, turning into the components of blood and cell elements of different tissues, such as muscular tissue, cartilaginous tissue, adipose tissue and neuronal tissue. There are not many stem cells in the organism of an adult and this amount becomes fewer with age, that is why our organism becomes more vulnerable to different diseases. However, stem cells, which can be found in cord blood, can be used for the treatment of them. Stem cells are the chance for the patients who have severe diseases to obtain a new life.