“Did you know your baby’s umbilical cord could cure your baby of up to 80 diseases?” Those were the words that stopped me in my tracks, literally. I gazed at my computer screen confused, and wondering how that soft, whitish cord, linking mother and child together, could hold so much power.
It was not the first time I was hearing, or reading, about the powers of the umbilical cord, or even cord blood banking, but I had always dismissed it as one of those oyinbo stuffs, that would never work here, and even if it did, then there would be limited access to it.
Anyways, the promise of curing over 80 diseases was so intriguing that I decided to seek more information about this magic, which is said to be in the umbilical cord. But here was the first time I heard about it.
A younger cousin of mine, Toyin, was a patient at a teaching hospital in Lagos, one that holds not-so-nice memories for me, but she had to go, because she had special needs. She came from her antenatal appointment one day, and brought back a form, which she said her doctor had advised her to think about filling.
It was for a study for her to donate her umbilical cord and placenta for scientific purpose, so they could know the extent of the usefulness of the umbilical cord. It was an odd request, considering her husband had been handed their first child’s placenta, and he had done what he would with it, even refusing to tell his wife exactly what he did to it.
Even though I was all for supporting the course of science, it was not my decision to make. But, I knew she was not going to be able to do it, as her husband, though a religious man, was too superstitious to allow strangers handle his child’s placenta, under the guise of science. She didn’t, but she said some of her fellow antenatal buddies, who agreed to the study, were relieved of the burden of what to do with their placenta, and even got better educated about the benefits of the cord blood, with some of them advised to think about cord blood banking, if they could afford it, at their next pregnancy, and how this blood could be used to regenerate more blood. I thought, that was the last I had heard of this business, until it started hoarding my screen space.
For foetuses, the umbilical cord is a lifeline. It provides the pathway by which sustenance gets to them from their mother’s body, while in the womb, and it’s clamped as soon as baby is out. However, if the proponents of cord blood banking are to believed, then the blood contained in the umbilical cord go could a long way in saving the life of a child, and even siblings of that child, should they fall ill with some diseases that can only be cured with the blood from the cord of that child.
So, what’s in the cord blood? Immature stem cells. According to my research, cord blood is a rich source of blood stem cells. Stem cells are building blocks of the blood and immune system. They have the ability to develop into other types of cells, so they can help repair tissues, organs, and blood vessels and can be used to treat a host of other diseases.
Stem cells are also found in bone marrow, human embryos, tissues of new born babies, hair follicles, baby’s teeth, fat, circulating blood, and muscle. Every part of the human body contains some stem cells, but most are not a rich enough source to be harvested for therapeutic applications.
Cord blood comes from a new-born’s umbilical cord, and can be collected immediately after birth. Doctors say its collection, if the new parents are opting for it, will be a painful procedure, both for the mom and new born. Doctors are also researching cord blood as potential treatment for conditions that currently have no cure.
Coming right on the heels of cord blood is the cord tissue, which contains unique and powerful stem cells that are being investigated for their ability to help repair and heal the body in different ways than cord blood stem cells.
These cells have potential use in regenerative medicine and are currently being evaluated in over 30 clinical trials to find out, whether, it can treat heart diseases, stroke, and damage to the spinal, among other conditions.
Your baby’s stem cells found in the cord blood unique selling point (USP) are:
It’s Unique: They will always be a perfect match for his or her own stem cells and be a likely match for siblings or other family members.
It’s Smart: Stem cells “know” how to find injured cells and tissue in the body and initiate a healing process.
It’s Powerful: They can be used to treat many life-threatening diseases, including anemia, leukemia and other cancers.
While some doctors recommend banking for a variety of reasons, the top reason is using your own family’s cord blood can have significant advantages in treatments, including fewer complications and improved medical outcomes.
According to one of the doctors, who has used cord blood, a neuro-surgeon, Dr. Chiang Yung-hsiao (Ph.D.), “Through cultivation of stem cells extracted from the cord blood, patients with spinal injuries have a great chance of having their damaged nervous system repaired, helping them to rise on their feet again.”
And in Nigeria here, cord blood stem cell has been used in successfully treating sickle cell anaemia. Even though our people are still against it, as some women still prefer to have their cord and bury it the traditional way, or leave it for the hospital to dispose off. The part that made me laugh was from the women who refused to have their baby’s cord blood banked or even donated, for fear of “transferring the child’s destiny” to another person. Those were their words, when a researcher in Benin investigated.
Now, the question is, is cord blood banking worth it for most people? While the banks argue that it’s “insurance”, in case kids ever get sick and need it. However, many medical associations, like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, don’t support the practice for most people. They say that possible benefits are too slim to justify the costs of the banking.
“I don’t tell any of my patients not to do it, but I point out that the odds that they will ever use the stored cord blood are very low,” says Stephen Feig, professor of pediatrics at UCLA. “It’s a very expensive insurance policy.”
So the important thing is to make an informed choice. You need to know the benefits and the cost of cord blood banking, before you make any decisions.
The challenge in our clime is low to zero awareness about this service, which has been available in the country for some time, albeit affiliated to an international body.
There is also a tendency for the Nigerian market to focus solely on the use of cord blood for the cure of only one disease, now sickle cell anaemia, and then on donation, rather than banking, to fill the shortfalls in the blood and blood products, supply market. So, we are still some way off in tapping into the magic cure loaded in the umbilical cord.
This is something to think about and baby dust to all.
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