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Stem Cell Science

What are Stem Cells and How Do They Work?

The body uses stem cells to maintain healthy normal tissue and to repair damaged or worn out cells and tissue. They are the building blocks of organ tissue, blood and the immune system and they can be distinguished from other cells by two characteristics: They can renew themselves through cell division and they can differentiate into other types of cells, some with specialised functions like heart, skin, nerve and brain cells. Blood stem cells (haematopoietic stem cells or HSCs) can develop into all types of human blood cells.


How are Stem Cells Used in Treatments?

Stem cells from bone marrow were first used to regenerate blood and immune cells for patients who had received chemotherapy for cancer. In 1988, doctors began using cord blood stem cells to treat diseases that had previously been treated with bone marrow transplantation. Banking and re-infusing cord blood stem cells is now routine medical practice in the treatment of a range of blood disorders and immune system conditions such as: Leukaemia, Anaemia, & various autoimmune diseases. Cord blood stem cells are predominantly used in the treatment of children but adults also benefit from stem cell therapy following chemotherapy treatment if an adequate volume of cord blood is able to be collected at birth.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) closely regulates the use of cord blood stem cells in Australia and current uses are limited to reconstituting the body’s red cells and white cells and platelets after treatment for leukaemia and other childhood cancers. This is done by infusing the stem cells into the recipient’s blood stream where they engraft in the bone marrow and start to regenerate their blood cells and immune system.

Most parents bank with us for this reason but also because they have researched the potential these cord blood and cord tissue stem cells may offer in the future. They understand that stem cell medicine is a vibrant field with enormous potential.

Cord blood stem cells are routinely used for haematopoetic reconstitution as they can continually replicate and differentiate into the cells of the blood and immune systems (red blood cells to transport oxygen, white blood cells to provide a defense mechanism against foreign organisms and disease and to provide immunity, and platelets, which are essential for blood clotting). Overseas, doctors and scientists are seeing potentially promising results in clinical trials by infusing a child’s own stem cells back into their body to help with Infant stroke, Brain injury and Cerebral Palsy.