Since I began writing about my experience with CReATe Cord Blood Bank, I've had many friends contact me to ask about the cord blood banking process and to get my thoughts on whether or not they should look into banking their own babies' cord blood. Though I'm by no means an expert, nor am I in the position to tell anyone what they should do when it comes to making this very personal decision, I can speak from my own experience having just given birth to my second daughter two months ago. I can now say that I feel really good knowing that Fiona's umbilical cord stem cells and Peristem cells have been harvested and are being safely stored in CReATe's state-of-the-art facility. While there are many misconceptions circulating about cord blood banking (including the incorrect belief that banked cells expire after a certain number of years or that a patient cannot be treated with his own cells) and many people are hesitant when they hear about the associated cost (about the same price as a high-end stroller) I can say with all honesty that if I had the chance to go back in time and bank my first daughter's cord blood as well, I most certainly would.
Probably because like investing in insurance, it's one of those things you pray you'll never need to use, but can sleep better at night knowing you have, just in case.
The cord blood and Peristem banking process was totally painless and involved no effort on my end. Because my labour was so fast, we ended up forgetting our banking kit in the car but didn't need to worry as CReATe is prepared for moments like this and proactively provides select hospitals with Emergency Collection Kits. The doctor handled the harvesting process, my husband packed up the kit and called for the medical courier and off it went. The harvesting of the cord blood and Peristem cells didn't interfere with my delivery in any way—in fact, I hardly knew it was happening. All in all, the experience was unmemorable—in a good way.
Since people are still asking my opinion on cord blood banking, I feel as though I should stay abreast of what's going on in the field. Through CReATe's Facebook page I'm alerted to new studies and advancements in stem cell therapy. And, it was through their Facebook page that I found out about their information evening/webcast that brought together a diverse panel of experts to speak about cord blood and tissue stem cells banking. The webcast is still available online and is worth watching if you're one of those parents in the process of considering the pros and cons of cord blood banking. July is also cord blood awareness month and CReATe encourages all expectant parents to explore more about the different options available to them. You can check out when their next information session is online.
For me, watching the webcast, it was great to hear of the advancements in medical science and the countless clinical trials that are examining the potential use of cord blood stem cells and Peristem cells for a variety of illnesses and maladies.
It was also quite interesting to see Dr. Frances Verter in person. I have been fascinated with her work since I stumbled upon her website: Parents Guide to Cord Blood Foundation. I wrote about her story in my first cord blood banking post, and I still think it's one of the most powerful testaments to why parents might consider cord blood banking. If you're feeling uncertain about cord blood banking or not sure where to find unbiased information, Dr. Verter's site is the perfect place to start. This is an example of the honest language she uses to discuss cord blood banking:
"Parents usually wish to bank cord blood for their family on the premise that many more uses for the cord blood are around the corner, and that is probably true, but it is not a certainty. For this reason, family cord blood banking is a form of "health insurance," where parents make an investment based on what is known now, as a hedge against future developments."
As part of her presentation to the audience brought together by CReATe on May 7, Dr. Verter spoke about "emerging therapies" or new applications of cord blood stem cells. She explained that there are a number of pediatric disorders for which children are currently being treated with their own cord blood in clinical trials.
"What is most notable about these emerging therapies is that they all treat conditions that are not rare, conditions that a child is much more likely to experience than a stem cell transplant. The second important difference is that, whereas stem cell transplants require large cord blood collections, the emerging therapies can be successful with small collections," Dr. Verter writes on her site.
As part of her presentation, she spoke about the regenerative potential of stem cells to treat conditions such as Cerebral Palsy, Traumatic Brain Injury, Autism, and Type 1 Diabetes.
Also worth noting was the presentation made by Professor John E. Davies, President and Founder of Tissue Regeneration Therapeutics Inc. (TRT). His company owns the patent for the extraction of the Peristem stem cells, scientifically referred to as Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), from the umbilical cord tissue. The process was developed in Dr. Davies' lab at the University of Toronto and is exclusively licensed, under patent, to CReATe—making them the only bank in Canada currently able to harvest these cells. When you bank with CReATe you're given the choice to bank just cord blood cells, or to harvest a portion of the actual umbilical cord for Peristem extraction. Having chosen to do both, I was interested in the future possibilities of these cells.
According to Prof. Davies, in 2004 the first clinical trial using MSC (extracted from bone marrow) was conducted. Just eight years later there were already over 250 clinical trials underway using these cells (including, by 2012, 27 using cells extracted from the umbilical cord as an alternative to bone marrow) as therapeutics for a vast range of diseases.
Because the cells are more easily accessible via the umbilical cord (as opposed to bone marrow) there is increased potential for their use in therapies across the board wherever tissue and organs are involved.
While much of what was being said at the CReATe presentation was highly scientific, the main message was easy to understand. The future of stem cell therapy is great and harvesting and banking these cells from the umbilical cord is regarded as one of the least controversial and most easily accessible means of doing so. While I'm not so into science and will likely need my husband to continue translating for me, I look forward to reading about the advancements in this area and relevant applications. While I pray I'll never need to see first-hand what Fiona's stem cells can do—it's reassuring to know they're being kept safely for us, just in case.