Blood insurance: Banking stem cells
Louise Daly
Tue, 08 May 2007

When Kimberly Gaston was pregnant with her fourth child and her obstetrician suggested she should consider saving the blood from her baby's umbilical cord, the young mother did not hesitate.

"It was like a lightbulb went off," said Gaston.

The 32-year-old had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a year earlier — a thunderbolt that turned her world upside down and convinced her it might be smart to save her son's stem-cell rich cord blood as a form of "biological insurance".

"It gave me a sense of security about my children's future health," said the young mother from Satellite Beach, Florida.

Like a growing number of Americans, Gaston opted to bank that blood at her own expense, cryo-preserving it at a private US facility for the family's exclusive use in the event of an unforeseen medical emergency.

If her children don't need it, Gaston hopes she might be able to make use of it if there is ever a stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis, a chronic and incurable neurological disease.

Cord blood is a rich source of stem cells, a type of cell that can morph into almost any tissue type in the body and replicate many times over.

Cord blood stem cells have been used therapeutically for more than a decade to treat over 70 diseases, including many cancers and blood disorders. But it is the cells' potential applications in the field of regenerative medicine that is creating much of the buzz.

Researchers are studying how to use these cells to grow new tissue to treat everything from brain and spinal cord injuries to heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and Parkinson's disease.

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