What is cord blood?
Cord blood is the blood remaining the umbilical cord after your baby is born. Previously regarded as medical waste, cord blood has been found to contain large quantities of life-saving stem cells
Cord blood contains valuable stem cells
During pregnancy, your baby’s blood travels through its umbilical cord to the placenta, where it obtains nutrients and oxygen. After birth, excess blood remains in the umbilical cord, and is referred to as ‘cord blood’. Cord blood is a rich source of stem cells- rare ‘master’ cells from which all other cells, tissues, and organs in the body originate.
The fertilized egg (‘zygote’, Figure 1) is the very first stem cell; it divides to form the embryo, and eventually becomes your baby. Every cell in an early stage embryo is a stem cell, and has the ability to turn into a person (an identical twin), including all the cells, tissues, and organs in that person.
As your embryo matures, different categories of stem cells form. The earliest stem cells are capable of reproducing any part of a person’s body. More specialized stem cells also begin to emerge, with some being ‘committed’ to generating a specific type of cell or tissue in the body. All stem cells have the ability to divide to create more stem cells, or to turn into mature, working cells such as muscle and brain or nerve cells, that lose the ability to renew itself (Figure 2).
Lymphohematopoietic stem cells are responsible for generating all the blood and immune system cells in the body, and are one of several populations that exist in cord blood. As you will read in the next section, this ‘regenerative’ property of cord blood has been exploited by scientists and physicians to treat over 50 diseases of the blood and immune system.