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Stem Cells - Natures Gift


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Storing the blood from a newborn baby's umbilical cord to preserve the precious stem cells has recently become one of the most exciting areas of research, holding promise for the successful treatment of many diseases, cancers, and immune disorders.  In fact, some medical researchers now predict that within 10 to 20 years, stem cell research will enable us to grow an unlimited supply of any type of replacement body tissue or organ.  They are called stem cells because all 210 different types of cells within our bodies develop, or "stem" from these special cells.


When life begins, we have a number of embryonic stem cells. These special cells have the capacity to become any type of tissue the body needs. Depending on how they are stimulated, they can just as easily form the lens of your eye as they can your heart muscle. Because of this amazing versatility and its applications, being able to isolate and grow these embryonic stem cells has always been considered virtually the "holy grail" of science.

Scientists have now found a way to grow stem cells outside the body in a nutrient-filled medium. By putting different nutrients in the medium, scientists have been able to coax stem cells to develop into dozens of different types of tissue.

In animal experiments, researchers have grown heart-muscle tissue and injected it into damaged heart muscle. The tissue later replaced and strengthened the existing heart muscle. In similar experiments, stem cells have been transformed and used to grow new blood vessels, joint cartilage, and even nerves. Scientists around the world are reporting that stem cells are also being converted into pancreatic cells (which can make insulin), liver cells, brain tissue, and practically every other tissue present in the human body.

The Moral Dilemma

One of the major hurdles is not a technical problem but a moral one because there are two types of stem cells: embryonic and adult. Embryonic stem cells exist only in the embryonic stage of human development. To date, most of the work involving stem cells has been possible through harvesting stem cells from aborted fetuses, which obviously raises certain moral issues.

There has been an attempt to sidestep the moral issue by trying to clone stem cells from adult tissue. However, adult stem cells have been hard to isolate and are limited in the types of tissue they can form. Stem cells from the bone marrow, for example, might be coaxed into becoming blood vessels, bone, or nervous tissue, but not much beyond that. And, as you might expect, it's tricky to remove brain tissue from living adults for experimental purposes.

In contrast, stem cells are more abundant in embryonic tissue and embryonic stem cells possess two distinguishing characteristics. First, they are not limited in the type of tissue they can form. Second, they may be immortal. If they are kept in an immature state, they will continue to divide forever.

The Gift of Life

A morally acceptable way to sidestep this issue is to bank the umbilical cord blood of your newborn baby which is rich in stem cells. This is becoming very popular but there is only one opportunity to collect and store this blood, and that's at the time of delivery. You might call it a form of biological insurance.

Stem cells from cord blood are totally compatible not only with the child, but often with siblings and family members as well. In just the last few years, these stem cell transplants have been used successfully to save the lives of hundreds of children who have later developed genetic or immune disorders and certain cancers, such as leukemia. Over 30 diseases are currently being treated with cord blood transplants. If current research is any indication, having a supply of one's own stem cells could turn out to be the future cure for dozens of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and others. It could also form the basis for regenerating aged organs and tissue.

One company that offers a complete program that makes the whole procedure very simple is Viacord. They provide all the collection material, educate the hospital staff and doctors, and arrange for pickup and storage of the cord blood in a way that doesn't interfere with the birthing process.


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