Can Blood banked from your umbilical cord save the apple of your eye from deadly diseases? Celebs and a 140-crore stem cell industry say yes!
In the endless quest for youth and health elixirs, stem cell banking is gaining momentum. The procedure typically involves the storage of cord blood -- a rich source of stem cells -- for future medical use.
"At the time of delivery, we (typically) dispose of the (umbilical) cord and cord blood. Mothers can opt to have the blood refrigerated for later use," explains Dr Suman Bijlani, Director, GyneGuide, Women's Health clinic.
The reason stem cells are so valuable is their ability to regenerate and take on the cellular properties of any tissue ororgan. Once a stem cell acquires the property of a particular cell having a specialised function say a muscle cell or a red blood cell, it can multiply into more cells, giving rise to tissue.
"Stem cells can be used for the treatment of genetic disorders within the family," says
Dr Bijlani, adding, "Stem cells are likely to be used in the treatment of myocardial infarction (or heart attacks)."
The cells can also be useful in the treatment of disorders such as paralysis, spinal cord diseases, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, certain cancers, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, bone disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and certain plastic surgery procedures, includingbreast augmentation and face lifts.
"I suspect that it will take care of several diseases in the future, as the initial results are encouraging," says Dr Sanjay Sharma, cancer surgeon, Lilavati Hospital and Bombay Hospital, adding, "It is simpler to do a stem cell transfer than it is to do a bone marrow transplant."
Adult bone marrow, blood, and fat are other sources of stem cells. "There are different methodologies to preserve these cells," says Dr Sharma.
But as in life, there are no guarantees in stem cell banking. Engraftment, defined as the process where transplanted cells multiply, can fail. "It is unusual, but yes, engraftment can fail. The time taken for engraftment for cord blood stem cells is typically longer than the time taken for an engraftment for bone marrow cells, and takes anywhere from two to four weeks. There is also an increased risk of infection during the interim period," says Dr Bijlani.
Apart from these complications, donors often have to sign an agreement stating that the blood bank is not responsible for what happens to the stem cells during transportation. Thus, experts advise reading the fine print carefully and signing up only with organisations accredited with the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB).
"Your own cord blood may not be useful for congenital diseases or diseases already present at the time of birth," explains Dr Bijlani.
Stem cell banking has burgeoned into a 100-crore plus industry, in spite of its prohibitive costs, with cord blood storage costing anywhere from Rs 60,000 to Rs 1,25,000. "Studies indicate that one in 2,000 people are likely to use stem cell treatment, but in another 40 years' time, one in 20 people is likely to avail of the treatment," says Dr Bijlani, adding, "Stem cell treatment is biological insurance for your child."
An insurance that does not come without its price, with stem cell procedures costing between Rs 10 to 12 lakhs. Certain blood banks however, do offer insurance policies and discounts, but not without terms and conditions.
"It is still an expensive procedure as there are few people offering this type of banking. Once the procedure is fully evolved, it will cost as must most other therapies," says Dr Sharma.
"It is still an evolving science. While it is a fact that stem cells are totipotent (capable of forming an entireorganism), there are certain influences that it needs to be under to get converted into a specific cell.
In the case of nerve cells, it requires influences like the nerve growth factor (NGF) to get converted into a nerve cell, which can only be determined by the body itself," says Dr Vinayak Dattatray Joshi, neuro surgeon, Divine Hospital, Suvarna Hospital and Jupiter Hospital.
"The success rate of stem cell procedures is only 30%," says Dr Joshi, adding, "It is not a legal undertaking in India, yet."
"Can I say it's good for everyone? No. It is not standard of care yet. It is still an evolving treatment," Dr Sharma concludes.
The famous who've done it
Michael J Fox Hollywood actor
Kajol Bollywood actress
Farah Khan Bollywood film director
Mary Tyler Moore Hollywood actress
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