Stem cell Banking: The Complete Technical Guide
The “Stem Cell Banking: The Complete Technical Guide” is a user guide that provides an insight of the scientific facts that revolves around stem cell banking.
For the ultimate guide for stem cell banking click here .
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are some of the most basic living organisms which have the ability to transform into cells which can perform a set of highly specialized tasks.
Think of stem cells like a blank slate. You can fill up the slate with vital information to carry out various tasks. Similarly, stem cells can be transformed by the body into cells of the blood, heart, muscles, brain etc. to perform organ-specific tasks.
Another unique aspect of stem cells is their inherent ability to multiply and divide without losing their original characteristics.
A stem cell can divide in the following ways:
- Divides into an identical stem cell as well as an organ-specific (or specialized) cell.
- Divides into 2 specialized cells.
- Divides into 2 identical stem cells.
So what are Stem Cells useful for?
Mainly, they are used to repair damaged tissue or treat diseases. In the near future, they are vital to understand the progress of various diseases as well as in the discovery of new drugs.
Where do Stem Cells come from?
Several sources for stem cells have been discovered so far:
Embryonic stem cells
These cells come from embryos aged 3-5 days old. At this age, the embryo contains only about 150 stem cells. These cells can divide into more stem cells as well as transform into organ-specific cells in the body. They are useful for regeneration or repair of damaged tissue and organs.
Adult stem cells
These cells are located in adult tissues like bone marrow or fat. Adult cells have a limited ability to transform into different cells of the body.
Perinatal stem cells
Perinatal refers to the time period before or after the birth of a child. These cells are located in 2 regions: Amniotic (fluid surrounding and protecting the fetus) and Umbilical Cord Blood. These stem cells can divide into more identical versions as well as transform into specialized cells. Umbilical cord blood has become increasingly popular as a source for stem cells.
Have stem cells already been used to treat diseases?
Doctors around the world have been able to perform stem cell transplants to treat certain blood cancers and genetic disorders for five decades.
In such transplants (popularly known as bone marrow transplants), stem cells replace the damaged cells (due to cancer or chemotherapy). Major burn injuries and chronic wounds have also been healed by replacing the skin with stem cells.
Stem cells for such operations are either derived from the patient’s own body (autologous) or from a donor with a blood match (allogeneic).
What are the potential benefits of Stem Cells in the future?
Several potential benefits of stem cells are being experimented upon right now. They include treatments for cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injury and many more.
How are Stem Cells collected (or harvested)?
The collection or harvesting of stem cells varies according to their source.
Umbilical cord blood is collected from its respective cord immediately after the birth of a baby.
The permission of the parents is necessary for the collection of a baby’s cord blood.
The collection itself takes place in 4 steps:
- Immediately after the birth of the baby, the umbilical cord is clamped.
- An antiseptic solution is then used to clean the cord.
- A needle is then plunged into the vein of the cord.
- Once the blood is withdrawn, it is placed in a sterile container. The container already contains a solution which stops the blood from clotting.
The volume of stem cells collected per birth of a child is relatively small (about 75 mL on average). Hence, the stem cells from one such collection are usually used for children or as one part of a larger stem cell transplant for adults.
What is Stem Cell Banking?
Unlike other organs in the human body, stem cells can be frozen for a long period of time (around 20 years on average) with minimal damage.
Hence, stem cell banking can be defined as the process of isolation of stem cells from the cord blood, freezing and storage until they are needed.
What is the current state of Stem Cell Banking in India?
In India, the first stem cell bank opened up in 2004. Initially, the prices for storage were high and inflexible (Rs 75,000 or more as a one-time payment). As the market has expanded over the years, parents are facing easier financial choices.
Right now, only 4 out of 1000 Indian parents choose preserve their child’s stem cells.
Over 2 million units of cord blood are stored in 20 banks (4 are public banks and the rest are private) across India.
But the rate of usage of stored cord blood is very less due to the preference of private banks over public banks. For example, LifeCell – 1 of India’s largest private stem cell banks has so far released only 23 cord blood units for therapy out of 70,000 stored units in 10 years of operation.
Currently, an awareness campaign promoting cord blood banking and more importantly, public blood banking is being run vigorously.
How are Stem Cells stored?
After the cord blood is collected at childbirth, it is sent to a blood bank with the facilities necessary for storage.
As soon as the cord blood arrives at the bank, it is tested for:
- The type of stem cells so that it is easier to match it to potential transplant recipients.
- Infections like HIV and Hepatitis.
After testing, the cells are mixed with a preservative called DMSO and then cooled slowly to a very low temperature. They are then stored and monitored continuously to ensure that the surrounding temperature stays below -150° C.
What happens when Stem Cells are needed?
When the cells are needed for a transplant at some point in the future, they are simply thawed and infused into the patient. The effectiveness of stored blood is not fully known. Till now, cord blood stored for about 15 years has been successfully transplanted.