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What are stem cells?

Stem cells are the body’s master cells. They are known by this description because all of the cells and tissues that make up the human body develop from these master cells and they have the following unique properties:

  • Self-renewal: stem cells can renew themselves almost indefinitely. This is also known as proliferation.
  • Differentiation: stem cells have the special ability to develop into cells with specialised characteristics and functions.
  • Unspecialised: stem cells themselves are largely unspecialised cells which then give rise to specialised cells.

Umbilical cord blood has been identified as a rich source of these cells, which can be collected just after a baby is born using a straightforward, safe and painless technique. The procedure involves no risk and poses no harm to either the mother or her newborn baby.

Unlike bone marrow stem cells, which age in the same fashion as we do, cord blood stem cells stored at birth retain the same vitality and flexibility as when they were collected. This gives them a number of potential advantages over stem cells obtained from bone marrow, such as lower rates of rejection and reduced risk of transmission of viral infections.

Stem cells for transplantation can come from yourself (this is called an autologous transplant) or from a donor (this is called an allogeneic transplant).

Doctors have been using cord blood stem cell transplants to successfully treat patients since 1988.