Banking your blood

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When I think of banks, which is a rare occurrence, Nedbank, FNB and Absa come to mind. But now you can bank your cord blood privately. Something almost too futuristic to contemplate. In an age of medical advancements, keeping your stem cells is becoming a popular choice in insuring your life against potential diseases. Instead of buying their children more toys, parents are opting to bank their blood.
Stem Cell treatment is already being used to treat manydiseases.Leukemia, lymphoma and cerebal palsy are just some that are responding well.
Using cord blood is basically an alternative to bone marrow transplants.The best source in getting this blood is at birth from the umbilical cord because itcontainsstem cells, which can be used to treathematopoietic and genetic disorders.Burn victims may also soon benefit from stem cell treatment.
InSouth Africa, over 14 000 families have registered with Cryo-SaveSouth Africa,aprivate stem cell blood bank. With its head office inBelgiumand 40 offices around the world – the expanding phenomenon is reaching more and more people. They havehad at least 10 releases so far. Ranging from cerebral palsy clinical trials to treatment of leukemia, which is a clinically approved treatment.
The director at Cryo-SaveSouth Africa, Louis Rehrl, says it is the way of the future. “Stem cells can grow skin, tissue, heart muscle and bone. Having them all go together and grow a limb could be possible.Maybe we have taken the first steps. If we had to look 100 years into the future it could be possible, we really don’t know.”

“We need to keep in mind that one day when our children are older the landscape of medicine might be very different”

Just like a bone marrow transplant, a stem cell transplant using cord blood, follows the same system.
“If we use cord blood to treat leukemia. The patient undergoes chemo to destroy the bad cells then they will re-infuse the stem cells into the body and basically replace the cells that they have just destroyed. Killing the diseased cells and replacing them with healthy cells. Once you have infused the cells you wait for the body to react and recover. There are no guarantees with any type of treatment and this is the same but it is a proven and accepted treatment around the world.”
Cryo-Save looks at it as an insurable policy for families. Rehrl says: “We are storing today for the 80 treatable disease. But we also have our eye on the future – rheumatoid arthritis, spinal cord damage, eyesight restoration, wounds, and others. We might wait 5-10 years for these trials to come through. We need to keep in mind that one day when our children are older the landscape of medicine might be very different.”
Moral issues Whenever science and experimentation is involved, controversy usually follows. But Rehrl assures me that there is nothing unethical when it comes to cord blood banking. He says there has been some controversy surrounding stem cell research “because they (scientists) have used embryonic stem cells for research because they can do so much. – mainly in animal models. So the problem there is they have to destroy the embryo to use the cells. But cord blood banking does not have anything like that.”
There are concerns that stem cells are linked to cloning but Cryo-Save’s stem cells are not being used for cloning. Even though they are doing some experiments with embryonic stem cells for cloning possibilities. “They are not doing this in clinical trials, but you hear of all these fantastic experiments being done in the lab and then people assume that harvesting umbilical chord stem cells is linked to cloning, but this is not the case.”
Clearly fascinated by the advancements of science, Rehrl says all these developments in finding the potential of stem cells is done to better understand the science behind how all these things work. The why?
“Stem cells is based on an outcomes based treatment. We know that if we do this we get this result. We don’t necessarily know why, and that is what some scientists are trying to find out.”

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– By Tanja Bencun