Cutting the Cord Now Stores New Hope; Stem Cells Extracted from Umbilical Cords Offer Treatment for Many Diseases

Article excerpt

Byline: Rebecca Marshall and suni golightly

SEE HOW THEY RUN

When elderly mice were injected with stem cells from younger mice at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh, the results shocked even the scientists.

The study mice were genetically engineered to have a condition similar to a rare human syndrome called progeria, in which children age quickly and die young.

These fast-aging mice typically die around 21 days after birth. Given the injection approximately four days before they were expected to die, not only did the elderly mice live a[pounds sterling] they lived three times their normal lifespan, living on for a further 71 days. In human terms, that would be the equivalent of an 80-year-old living to be 200.

YOU are full of billions of them.

They are the building blocks of life.

They are stem cells, and very few of us pay them the respect they deserve. Not because we donat care; we just donat realise how remarkable they are.

What are stem cells?

Our bodies are made up of about 200 different kinds of specialised cells (such as muscle cells, nerve cells, fat cells and skin cells). All of these specialised cells originate from stem cells. A stem cell is basically a cell that is not yet specialised; a blank canvas.

Stem cells can be divided into two broad groups: those that can go on to become any type of cell in the body (pluripotent), and those that can only become certain types of cells (multipotent).

The pluripotent stem cells are the cause of much controversy and debate, because these cells are sourced from aborted fetuses and embryos (excess ones produced from in vitro fertilisation), before theyave had a chance to become specialised.

Umbilical cord stem cells

Umbilical cord stem cell collection is on the rise in Australia. There isnat the same controversy surrounding this type of stem cell research as there is with the embryonic stem cells, as the cord blood is collected after the baby has been born and the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut.

If not collected, this blood would otherwise be thrown away. The procedure is painless and risk-free to both mother and baby, it takes about three minutes and doesnat alter the birthing process in any way.

The number of diseases treatable by these cells is increasing all the time, as is awareness among parents of the exact implications of storing their babyas cord blood and cord tissue.

But the process is slow. The cord blood and tissue banking industry is only 10 years old in Australia, and 20 years globally.

A 2009 estimate showed the proportion of parents storing umbilical cord blood privately in Australia was less than 1%, compared to 6%a8% in the United States, 24% in Singapore and 50% in Korea.

The worldas first cord blood transplantation was performed in America in 1988, effectively curing a boy of Fanconias anemia.

This was the first disease found to be treatable by stem cells.

By the year 2000 there were 44 diseases on that list; and in 2010, that number had grown to 80.

So far, researchers have successfully transplanted cord blood stem cells in the treatment of a number of blood diseases and cancers, including leukemia, anemias and immuno-deficiency diseases. …