Disease Information

Stem cell research is a rapidly growing field of medical research in which new discoveries are constantly being made. Although not all diseases treated with stem cells have been treated specifically with cord blood stem cells, doctors have been using cord blood in lifesaving treatments since 1988. Bone marrow transplantation (BMT) is an often used to treat a variety of diseases and genetic blood diseases. If BMT is needed, the patient's family is tested for an HLA-matched donor for that child. However, there is only a 1 in 4 chance that a patient's sibling will be a suitable match and it is highly unlikely that other members of the patient's family will match either. If a family member is not identified, then a search is performed for a matched-donor through the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).

However, the chances of finding a suitably matched unrelated donor are approximately 30 percent at best. In addition, the search process can take up to 6 months to match and the process is exceptionally expensive. Furthermore, there are many side effects potentially associated with BMT from an outside donor. Specifically, the most serious condition being graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), in which cells in the transplanted bone marrow graft start to attack the patient.

This is the leading cause of death related to donor BMT and it occurs approximately 65-90 percent of the time in unrelated BMT recipients. Fortunately, research began in the 1980’s which revealed that umbilical cord blood was comparable to bone marrow in terms of transplant, and the incidence and severity of GVHD was significantly reduced. If the cord blood came specifically from the particular child who was later to be the recipient of his/her own cord blood cells, then the risk of GVHD was essentially gone. Thus, many parents have educated themselves regarding the possible advantages of collecting and storing their child’s cord blood at birth in the unfortunate event that their child becomes ill throughout their lifetime.