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Stem Cell Myths – Busted

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The term stem cell gleans different reactions from people both in the medical community and the wider public. Still an emerging science, but with immense possibilities, stem cell research is shrouded in many myths and misconceptions. Cryo-Save has taken on the top myths and clarifies facts regarding this fast-growing medical treatment.

Myth 1 – Stem cell storage is costly 

Stem cell storage is available to anyone who would like to store their baby’s umbilical cord stem cells. Cryo-Save has multiple cost options and interest-free payment plans to store cord blood and tissue.

Myth 2 – All stem cells are the same

When you hear “stem cells”, you may not know exactly what these are or conjure up images of a certain cloned sheep.

In reality, stem cells are the body’s internal repair system. It continuously replaces dead or diseased cells with new, healthy cells to ensure normal function of the body.

We differentiate between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are powerful because they are pluripotent and can develop into any type of cell in your body. But they’re often controversial because of their origin and is not part of the stem cell storage services offered by Cryo-Save.

Multi-potent or adult stem cells are found throughout the body and they form only certain tissue cells, maintaining your body’s organs as you age, e.g. blood forming stem cells and mesenchymal stem cells.

BLOOD FORMING STEM CELLS produce new and healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets continuously, to ensure normal function of the blood and immune system, (like a factory producing new cars every day).

  • RED BLOOD CELLS are responsible to carry oxygen to all parts of the body.
  • WHITE BLOOD CELLS are the soldiers in our blood and fight off all foreign invaders like bacteria etc.

PLATELETS form clots to prevent excessive bleeding.

Researchers have successfully used umbilical cord stem cells (taken from a new-born’s cord blood), to treat leukaemia and other blood disorders since 1998. Stem cells from a baby’s umbilical cord are considered adult stem cells and these precious cells, if not cryopreserved, are discarded as medical waste in many instances. Therefore, these cells are free of controversy and acceptable to most cultures and religions.

Myth 3 – Umbilical cord stem cells can only be used for your baby

Your baby’s umbilical cord stem cells are a 100% perfect match for your baby and biological parents’ stem cells will be at least a half match. There is a 25% probability of matching siblings, and unlike bone marrow transplants you don’t have to have a perfect match in transplants when making use of cord blood stem cells.

Myth 4 – I didn’t store my first child’s stem cells so there is no point in storing for the second child

Just as some people need organ transplants to treat or cure diseases, blood stem cells can be transplanted too. If the blood forming stem cells in our bodies cannot produce healthy cells or stop producing cells completely, we cannot function normally and our stem cells will have to be REPLACED with healthy ones that can be found in the bone marrow or umbilical cord blood. Sometimes these stem cells are your own, and sometimes they will come from a donor.

Cord blood contains powerful stem cells, and fact is that if your baby becomes ill in the future you may be able to use these cells as treatment. One of the contributing factors is that partially matched cord blood stem cells can be used for transplantation, increasing the chances of finding a suitable match. Today, umbilical cord blood stem cells are used in more than a third of all blood stem cell transplants in the world. Therefore, storing your second child’s stem cells has the possibility, depending on the degree of matching, to treat your first child should a stem cell transplant be required but also other members of the family.

Myth 5 – Stem cell storage is only available overseas

Cryo-Save has been storing umbilical cord stem cells for families all over the world since 2000. It is the leading family stem cell bank in Europe and Africa, Cryo-Save has stored more than 310 000 samples. Cryo-Save South Africa offers both local and international storage options in either Pretoria or Europe for both cord blood and cord tissue. This local facility complies with the highest international standards and importantly complies to the coveted AABB accreditation standards.

AABB, formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks, is an international non-profit association, representing individuals and institutions involved in the field of transfusion medicine and cellular therapies. Accreditation by the association follows an intensive on-site assessment by specially trained assessors who established that the level of technical and administrative performance within the facility meets or exceeds the standards set by the Association. AABB’s Accreditation programme (recognised by the International Society for Quality in Healthcare – ISQUA) contributes to quality and safety of collection, processing, testing, distributing and administration of stem cells.

Myth 6 – Mixed race parents can’t store stem cells

On average, the chances of finding a perfectly matching blood stem cell donor for allogeneic transplant, are only 1 in 100 000. These odds are significantly worse for people from a mixed descent. However, despite its diverse ethnic make-up, South Africa (nor the rest of the continent) has no public cord blood stem cell bank, which makes the likelihood of finding a matching donor even more challenging. Should a child from mixed descent be diagnosed with a blood-related cancer or disorder, the search for a possible stem cell match can be debilitating to a family’s finances and hope for recovery. Therefore, Cryo-Save encourages mixed race families to store their babies’ stem cells.

Myth 7 – Stem cell banking is only for families with a history of cancer

The myth is deceptive and dangerous. The uses of cord blood stem cells have extended far beyond treatments for cancer. Researchers have invigorated the field of regenerative medicine through innovative uses of stem cells. To say that someone doesn’t need to store cord blood because there isn’t a family history of cancer completely discredits the expansive work being done to identify treatments for all these other conditions. It’s true that cord blood research started with a foundation in blood-related diseases such as Leukaemia. Many people don’t realise that stem cells now play a part in the treatment of over 80 various diseases and conditions. Further, there are countless clinical trials taking place that are seeking to push the boundaries of regenerative medicine.

Researchers at the Duke University medical centre are conducting a program of research to evaluate the efficacy of autologous and allogeneic cord blood for improving outcomes of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The first study examined the safety and efficacy of using autologous cord blood to treat young children with autism spectrum disorder and assessed the feasibility of various outcome measures to determine which measures can be used as primary and secondary endpoints for a randomised phase 2 clinical trial (DukeACT) that is currently underway. Cord blood cells can be collected from the placenta and stored for future usage in cord blood banks for cellular therapies or blood stem cell transplantation. Previous research has shown that cord blood cells can help reduce inflammation and signal cells to help repair damaged brain areas. The goal of this study was to investigate whether similar success will be shown in children with ASD.

Researchers at Duke University are also conducting a clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of an intravenous infusion of a child’s own umbilical cord blood in young children with cerebral palsy, ages 12 to 72 months. The safety and feasibility of an intravenous infusion of autologous cord blood in children with acquired brain injuries was demonstrated in a “lead up study” to the clinical trial. From this pioneering “lead up study”, a number of testimonials emerged of children who had made dramatic functional improvements after receiving their own cord blood stem cells.  The trial is a double-blind placebo controlled study, with crossover at one year. The placebo infusion looks and even smells like the cord blood infusion.

Another study in Australia will also treat older children aged 1 to 10 years who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. They are also using the patient’s own stored cord blood. It is a two-year study to see if there is any change in the children’s motor function.

Myth 8 – Stem cell collection is a risky medical procedure

Collecting stem cells from an umbilical cord blood is quick, painless and non-invasive, posing no medical risk to mother or baby. Once a baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut, a standard medical procedure. It is only after the clamping that the blood and tissue are collected from the umbilical cord for stem cell processing. The stem cells are collected the umbilical cord, which is usually discarded as medical waste after the birth of a baby.

Myth 9 – Your gynaecologist is the only person that can perform the stem cord cell collection process

As more and more patients choose to collect their baby’s cord blood, doctors are becoming increasingly familiar with the collection process. Cryo-Save’s dedicated team of representatives however, if your doctor has never done a cord blood collection before, does provide simple step-by-step instructions in all the collection kits they supply. The Cryo-Save medical director is available to provide any telephonic support to healthcare professionals required prior to the procedure. Over and above that, Cryo-Save can also arrange for its own representative, a Registered Nurse, to conduct the collection process.

Myth 10 – Stem cell banking cannot be combined with delayed cord clamping

With more parents wanting to store their child’s umbilical cord blood and delayed cord clamping being recommended in certain circumstances, the question arises: Are umbilical cord blood banking and delayed cord clamping mutually exclusive?

The answer is no and it is possible to do both. The placenta and umbilical cord hold enough blood to allow delaying the cord clamping by 1 minute (the recommended time given by the World Health Organisation) and still have enough for a successful cord blood collection. Chances of a successful collection will naturally increase by combining in + ex utero collection.

Myth 11 – Stem cell banking is only possible with vaginal/caesarean birth

Cord blood and cord tissue collections are safe for both vaginal and caesarean deliveries. Immediately following the birth but before the placenta is delivered, the healthcare provider collects the cord blood from the baby’s umbilical cord. After the placenta is delivered, the cord tissue is then collected. There is absolutely no pain or risk to the mother or child during the collection process because the blood is taken from the cord after it has been clamped and cut.

Myth 12 – Stem cells are the ultimate cure for everything

Blood stem cell transplantation, using stem blood cells from sources such as bone marrow, has been performed for more than 50 years, with more than one million blood stem cell transplants across the world playing an important role in the treatment of bone marrow failures, blood cancers, blood disorders, metabolic diseases, immune deficiencies and autoimmune diseases.

Stem cell therapies are becoming as important to the medical field as antibiotics were for the 20th century. Yet, stem cell procedures are certainly not the answer to every degenerative condition. It is crucial to have the right expectations as a patient. Cryo-Save puts an emphasis on educating potential patients and helping them make well-informed treatment decisions.

Myth 13 – Storing stem cells is a “health insurance”

Depending on your tissue type, the chance of finding matching blood stem cell donor from an unrelated person may be 1:100 000. Blood stem cells can be used in the treatment of more than 80 diseases. This doesn’t mean they will be used and using them doesn’t guarantee success. Each case is unique and only the treating physician can determine eligibility. Stem cell research is promising on many horizons, but the applicable use of this technology has only just begun. As medical science continues its research into stem cells and their flexibility, the list of possible treatments grows. Therefore, storing stem cells is not a health insurance but an investment in the future of healthcare.

Myth 14 – Religious opposition to stem cell research

There are various categories or sources of stem cells, adult stem cells and stem cells from cellular reprogramming. Certain religions oppose only one of these categories, namely, embryonic stem cell research. This is because the cells are taken from embryos that are up to fourteen days old, invariably destroying that early human life. The Catholic Church, for example, supports most categories of research involving stem cells, and supports every ethical form of stem cell research. However, the Church has a firm position against embryonic stem cell research. Stem cells from a baby’s umbilical cord are considered adult stem cells and these precious cells, if not cryopreserved, are discarded as medical waste in many instances. Therefore, these cells are free of controversy and acceptable to most cultures and religions.

In fact, Cryo-Save International supports a clinical trial at the Catholic University of the Holy Heart, owned by the Vatican.

Myth 15 – Bone marrow provides the best source of stem cells

Wrong! Bone marrow is one of the sources of stem cells, but not the best one. Stem cells are often called master cells, and form the foundation for your entire body as building blocks for the blood, immune system, tissue and organs. They can replicate or regenerate themselves and has the ability to differentiate into any one of 220 different specialised cells in the body.

Studies have shown that cord blood transplants can be performed in cases where the donor and the recipient are only partially matched. In contrast, bone marrow grafts require a perfect degree match in most cases. Because partially matched cord blood transplants can be performed, cord blood potentially increases a patient’s chance to find a suitable donor.

As treatment uses are developing, these stem cells may have potential that is currently not even known.

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