Embryonic Stem Cells – To Bank or Not to Bank? Part 1

This post is something of a follow-up to the post I published a little while ago about the benefits of requesting delayed cord clamping during the 3rd stage of labour. As I discussed in that post, premature clamping of the cord (the current standard practice in most North American hospitals) deprives the newborn of about 40% of his own blood volume and has been found to contribute to anaemia in babies weeks or months after birth. Since the concern about increased risk of jaundice in babies whose cords were allowed to finish pulsating before clamping has been discredited by the most recent and comprehensive research, there is really no argument against allowing the cord to pulsate from a health and safety perspective at the time of birth.

The one complicating factor that remains though, is the fact that some parents are now considering the option of banking their newborn’s ‘cord blood’ (the term is something of a misnomer, since cord blood is really just fetal blood that hasn’t had time to flow back into the baby – calling it “cord blood” implies that it is somehow different from other fetal blood, but really calling it this is akin to referring to “leg blood” or “arm blood”, which obviously doesn’t make sense) for the purpose of stem cell preservation. The idea behind this practice is that the stem cells found in fetal blood could be stored and harvested later in the event of an illness that is treatable with stem cells. Since finding a stem cell match in the general population can be difficult and often poses ethical problems, banking cord blood is often seen as an insurance policy in case of illness.

The problem is, banking cord blood is expensive and not always reliable as the stem cells contained within it have a limited shelf-life and transplant is not always guaranteed. Given what we know about the benefits (as well as ease and cost-effectiveness) of delayed cord clamping and taking into account that the chance of ever using the stem cells from banked cord blood at all is only about 1/2 700, if one had to choose between the two practices, it seems that delayed cord clamping would be the way to go in the vast majority of cases (possibly excepting those where a first degree relative has a familial illness that is treatable with stem cells). Recently though, some medical practitioners have begun to explore the possibility of both delaying cord clamping and collecting ‘cord blood’ for banking. At present all of the evidence is anecdotal, but practitioners are reporting that while they aren’t able to collect the usual 500mL, they are able to collect 150mL or more with patience and care. That is more than enough to be useful for stem cell harvesting and seems like a ‘best-of-both-worlds’ option for those families where banking is indicated (i.e. in cases of previously diagnosed familial illness in first degree relatives). For more info on this, check out this article from Lamaze International where the most recent research on delayed cord clamping and cord blood banking is discussed.

Another absolutely fascinating new discovery is the fact that menstrual blood contains embryonic stem cells too! Part two will focus on the relationship between our fears about birth and our anxieties regarding our periods. Maybe the stem cell discovery will encourage a more favourable perspective on menstruation and the female body in general.

Related:

“Should We Private Bank Our Baby’s Cord Blood?” Information That Can Help You Answer That Question

 

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