Cord blood, also called placental blood, is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord following birth, after the umbilical cord is cut. Generally, this blood is disposed of with the placenta and umbilical cord. There is much controversy regarding the use of stem cell research as it pertains to the use of embryos. However, there have been new scientific breakthroughs in the field of stem cell research using cord blood stem cells from living babies.
A team of South Korean researchers, headed by Prof. Kang Kyung-sun of Seoul National University, has successfully grown pancreatic beta cells from umbilical cord blood stem cells of newborn babies. The stem cells are able to secrete insulin, the hormone necessary for treatment of diabetes. The ability of cord blood stem cells to differentiate, or change into other types of cells in the body is a new discovery that holds great promise for improving the treatment of some of the most common diseases including diabetes. This achievement would be highlighted by The Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, the U.S.-based weekly, that documents breakthrough papers in biotechnology.
Similar breakthroughs have been achieved by scientists throughout the world. Researchers at the University of Newcastle, in Dublin, produced a ‘mini liver’ from cord blood stem cells. The technique will be developed to create a full-sized, fully functioning liver. Tissues from mini-livers will be used to test new drugs. Researchers are hopeful that within five years, pieces of the tissue can be used to repair damaged livers and within 15 years, actual liver transplants may be done using lab-grown livers made from cord blood. This is a significant achievement that can potentially develop treatments for liver diseases.
In a study published by the University of Minnesota, researchers discovered that some umbilical cord blood cells possess similar characteristics to primitive stem cells. According to Walter Low, Ph.D., senior investigator of the study and professor of Neurosurgery and the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Minnesota, this major discovery is crucial to understanding how cord blood stem cells can restore brain function after injury such as in stroke. In a laboratory test, cord blood stem cells were transplanted into rodents with controlled strokes. The results: some limb function was restored and the size of brain lesions was reduced. Cord blood stem cells developed into neuron-type cells, similar to those found in the brain. They also stimulated nerve fibers in the brain, thus the regained function in rats. This finding will significantly help advance the development of stroke research.
Stem cell technology has been advancing forward in leaps and bounds. The breakthroughs in cord blood stem cell research can substantially speed up the development of treatments for life-threatening diseases and debilitating conditions. Cord blood stem cell research avoids much of the controversy and problems associated with embryonic stem cell research.