STEM CELLS – Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What are stem cells?
A. Stem cells are the master cells of our body from which all the other 250 types of cells are formed. The umbilical cord blood mainly contains hematopoietic or blood cell forming stem cells i.e., stem cells that form Red Blood Cells, White Blood Cells and platelets.

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Q. In what conditions can stem cells be used?
A. As of now, stem cells have been used to treat almost 70 blood related diseases. Some of them are blood cancers like Leukemia and Myelo-proliferative disorders, Inherited Red Cell abnormality like Thalassemia, Immune-deficiency disorders and inherited metabolic disorders.

Q. What is the difference between Public Cord Blood Banking and Private Cord Blood Banking?
A. In public cord blood banking, there is no cost to the family concerned. The family donates their baby’s cord blood to the bank for future use by any Indian, subject to HLA compatibility or for research purposes. The cells belong to the bank and the family has no claims on the cells.

In private cord blood banking, the family pays a fee for storing their baby’s cord blood ONLY for their future use. The cells belong to the family.

Q. What is the rationale for public banking?
A. When the stem cells are donated, these cells can be made available to anyone across the world who is a perfect HLA match. Hence the likelihood of usage is much more, especially for Indians in any part of the globe as these HLA proteins are similar in people of the same ethnic origins.

Q. Does collecting cord blood affect the baby?
A. No. Cord blood is collected only after the birth of the baby and after clamping of the umbilical cord. The baby is in no way deprived of blood as the routine process of delivery is not interfered with in any way.

Q. Does the cord blood collection harm the mother?
A. No, it does not harm the mother in any way. It is a completely safe, harmless and painless procedure.

Q. Can all pregnant women donate cord blood?
A. Every healthy pregnant woman who has a normal pregnancy and a healthy foetus can opt to donate the cord blood of her baby.

Q. Will a blood sample be collected from the mother?
A. Yes, a sample from the mother will be collected at the time of onset of labour.

Q. What is HLA testing?
A. HLA or Human Leukocyte Antigen testing is the test for specific proteins that are present on the surface of the leukocyte (white blood cell). If stem cells from one individual have to be used for another person, the HLA types of the donor and recipient need to match.

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Q. How do I benefit from donating my baby’s cord blood?
A. Your cord blood donation will help the public cord blood bank to create a large inventory of tested stem cell units ready for transplant and thus increase the chances of finding a match. In the unforeseen event of any of your children needing a unit of stem cells for treatment of any haematological diseases, the public cord blood bank will make all efforts to find a best match available. In such an instance, you will only have to pay any additional testing charges and cost of transportation of the unit to the place of treatment.

Q. What are the chances that any one of us may need stem cells?
A. For a family to make use of the cells banked for itself, the likelihood varies from 1 in 400 to 1 in 200,000, as the usefulness is limited to the close family alone. Most of the childhood illnesses and cancers have a genetic basis and as the stem cells will carry signs of any genetic illness, the likelihood of the child using its own stored cells is also very remote.

Q. What happens if I donate to the public bank and then I need the stem cells myself?
A. If the cells you have donated are required for anyone else, the public bank shall issue these cells and keep you informed. If the cells are still with the bank, they will make them available to you at a concessional cost. This cost is for any additional testing and transport of the cells to the transplant site.

Q. What if there are twins?
A. Ideally, 70 ml or more cord blood is required to get adequate numbers of stem cells for transplant. In twin pregnancies, the volume of cord blood collected from each twin is appreciably less, as the weight of each twin is also less than an average weight of a newborn. Hence only in rare instances is cord blood collection in twin pregnancies encouraged.