An infant's umbilical cord blood may be an alternative to bone marrow in treating a variety of leukemias.
Using umbilical cord blood might have important therapeutic implications in treating certain diseases. Cord blood is rich in stem cells, which play a major role in creating all of the body's new blood cells.
Although mature cells continuously die off, stem cells, which reside in the bone marrow, function as parent cells. They replenish the blood by continually manufacturing young blood cells. Research continues in order to characterize the stem cells from umbilical cord blood.
An Alternative to Bone Marrow
Cord blood has proven to be an alternative to bone marrow. Umbilical cord blood contains a rich supply of stem cells, the same blood-producing cells that are extracted from bone marrow donors. leukemia patients need those cells because high doses of radiation and cancer-killing drugs destroy their own supply of stem cells.
The difference between cord blood transplants and traditional bone marrow transplants is that the blood-producing cells are collected directly from the umbilical cord of a newborn instead of putting a donor under anesthesia and extracting the marrow with a needle from the hip.
There are also advantages in terms of matching requirements for a donor/recipient, as well as greatly reduced risks of rejection and complications. The blood can be used to treat the child from which it was obtained, or the child's mother or sibling, or may be donated to provide a match for a needy patient.
The advantages of cord blood over bone marrow may include lower cost and reduced rejection if used in transplant. Reconstituting the bone marrow with cord blood rather than bone marrow may be less expensive, making it accessible to those who might otherwise be excluded.
Some non-profit institutions and the federal government have begun to show interest in creating a large cord blood donor bank, similar to the national Bone Marrow Donor program, to help lower costs and ensure the implementation of effective, consistent quality control standards.