stem-cellsWhat is cord blood?

The term “cord blood” is used to describe the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta after the birth of a baby. Up until recently this afterbirth was discarded as medical waste. Cord blood contains stem cells that may be cryopreserved for later use in medical therapies, such as stem cell transplants or clinical trials of new stem cell therapies.

What are cord blood stem cells?

The umbilical cord and placenta are rich sources of stem cells. These are different from both the embryonic stem cells in a fertilized egg or the stem cells obtained from a child or an adult. The stem cells in cord blood can grow into blood and immune system cells, as well as other types of cells

What are stem cells?

Stem Cells are the original building blocks of life, the body’s founder cells which differentiate into all the specialized cells that make up the human body (blood, muscle, bones, nerves, connective tissue, organs, skin etc).

Where are stem cells found?


The richest and most abundant source of stem cells is found in an embryo, which are known as embryonic stem cells. These stem cells have the ability to develop into all the tissues of the human body making them “pluripotent”. The proposed use of stem cells from this source is what has made stem cells so controversial, as it involves the termination of a potential life. Netcells is not involved in any form of embryonic stem cell harvest, storage, research or therapies.

Umbilical Cord

Stem cells are abundant in the umbilical cord and placenta of babies at birth. This makes the collection of umbilical cord blood a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is free of moral, ethical or religious concerns, as the umbilical cord and placenta are routinely discarded at birth. These stem cells are “virgin” cells as they are healthy cells and have not yet developed an immune system making them preferable for transplant.

Adult Body

Stem cells are also found in adults including bone marrow, peripheral blood, neural tissue, adipose (fat) tissue, skin and liver. These stem cells are less flexible than embroyonic stem cells as they are typically only able to form cells of the tissue in which they reside making them “multipotent”. These stem cells are active in repairing and maintaining our tissues and organs throughout our lives, but do however age as we do. Depending on where they reside, they are not always easy to isolate and sometimes small in numbers.

What types of stem cells are there?

Haematopoetic (blood) stem cells

Haematopoetic Stem Cells (HSCs) are found in abundance in umbilical cord blood and peripheral blood/bone marrow.
HSCs have the ability to evolve into all the specific cell types in the blood and immune system and are therefore used to treated blood and blood related diseases.
HSCs treat over 80 different blood related diseases and doctors have been transplanting adult blood stem cells, in the form of bone marrow transplants, for many decades. Cord blood stem cells are routinely being used in therapy today.

Mesenchymal stem cells

MSCs have traditionally been sourced in bone marrow and in a smaller numbers, in the umbilical cord blood itself. Compared to these sources, MSCs can however be found in more considerable numbers in the Wharton’s Jelly of the umbilical cord tissue and in adipose (fat) tissue of adults.

Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MCs) are stem cells that differentiate into many tissues of the body. These MSCs have been shown to be extremely robust and easily replicated in the laboratory thus making them ideal for cell therapy and transplantation.

MSCs are being employed in both research and clinical environments for a variety of aesthetic and medical conditions that include: skin regeneration (wound healing and burns, scar remodeling, the protection from and repair of UV light damage, antioxidant effects against free radicals, skin pigmentation disorders); neurology (nerve regeneration and repair in multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s); orthopedics (cartilage, bone repair); sports injury (tendon, ligament repair); cardiology (heart muscle regeneration); reconstructive surgery (fat autografts); and many other clinical areas.

What diseases are stem cells currently being used to treat?

The Parents Guide to Cord Blood Foundation has created a summary of diseases that stem cells are currently being used to treat as well as clinical trials that are underway:

  • Standard therapies – diseases for which transplants of blood-forming stem cells are a standard treatment. For some diseases they are only therapy, and in other diseases they are only employed when front-line therapies have failed or the disease is very aggressive.
  • Therapies in Clinical Trials – a ‘clinical trial’ is a study in human patients for an emerging therapy that has not yet been adopted as standard therapy. ClinicalTrials.Gov provides a searchable database of all trials in the United States, and holds many International trials as well.
    • Phase 1: Safety study to see if the procedure or drug is well-tolerated.
    • Phase 2: Larger study to measure effectiveness of the new treatment against a control group.
    • Phase 3: Even larger study to compare the effect of various parameters such as dose and administration, and to monitor side effects prior to market release.
    • Phase 4: Post-marketing studies to learn even more about risks, benefits, and optimal use.
  • Experimental therapies – These are diagnoses for which stem cell treatments are being studied either in the laboratory with cell cultures or in animals that mimic the human disease. The experimental therapies are not yet in human clinical trials.
  • Clinical trials with stem cells from Cord Tissue

Some real life stories:

Did Cord Blood Banking save this baby from brain damage?

Little Bailey Coates suffered a stroke in utero and Doctors predicted that 25% of her brain had been affected and that she may never walk or talk without intensive therapy.
Under direction of Dr Joanne Kurtzberg, the director of the paediatric blood and marrow transplant program at Duke University, Bailey has undergone three transfusions from her own cord blood and seems to be responding well to the treatments and now has use of both sides of her body.

Although more research needs to be done before Baileys progress can be directly attributed to her cord blood infusions, her progress has been encouraging. Bailey’s family hope that her story will help to spread the word about the potential benefits associated with banking a child’s cord blood.

Adapted from the article published by Amanda Woerner on 13th January 2014 on

Grandfather with leukaemia was saved by two babies’ umbilical cords

David Pyne, a 60 year-old grandfather, who was given 18 months to live after being diagnosed with leukaemia, has been cured after undergoing a remarkable cord blood stem cell transplant.
His team of doctors at The Christie Hospital in Manchester found two separate umbilical cord donors that were a good match- one from a baby born in America and one born in France. The donated stem cell units were flown over to The Christie Hospital where David underwent the stem cell transplant.

Adapted from Article published by Anna Hodgekiss on 12th February 2014 on

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