Stem Cells and Pregnancy

The face of health care keeps on getting a makeover with each passing day, the result being the availability of newer solutions to the problems that have nagged mankind for centuries. Stem cell research as regards the condition of pregnancy in women has yielded some special results in the recent past. Stem cells have been pretty aptly named, as these are the holding blocks of human life.

These cells build the human body and play an important role in the treatment of ravaging diseases like childhood leukemia and some cancer conditions. Apart from this, stem cells have been the center of attraction as far as contemporary pregnancy-related medical research is concerned, with conclusive evidence for scientists to believe that stem cells can also be employed in successfully tackling several diseases in the distant future of human life.

The relation between stem cells and pregnancy is pretty evident from the fact that in just a matter of nine months, stem cells let the embryo progress into a grown baby! These stem cells are mostly found in appreciable counts in the blood flowing through the umbilical cord.

The contribution to disease treatment results from the practice of harvesting stem cells at the time of the birth of the baby, separating them from the blood samples, deep storing them for periods as long as two decades and then using these stored stem cells as and when the concerned person falls prey to a disease through the course of his/her lifetime.

During the pregnancy when a woman is 10 weeks pregnant and especially in the last stages of pregnancy, they have some blood tests conducted on them so that the medical experts can determine whether the baby’s stem cells would be healthy enough to be stored.

Also, the medical examiners and analysts have to determine whether there would be chances of cross-contamination of blood samples and decide thereafter. Generally, these tests are conducted around a month before the expected delivery date of the child. If the doctors opine that storage of the stem cells of the baby would be fine, then the stem cell storage company you pick sends in a sterile collection kit. Your midwife uses this kit to collect blood from the umbilical cord. This sample is sent over to the laboratory where the stem cells are separated from the blood, frozen, and stored as per the established guidelines.

Pregnant ladies find a lot of comfort in the thought that a little consideration at the time of pregnancy could help them guard their babies against the possibilities of being afflicted by serious diseases in the future. Naturally, stem cell storage banks are required to store the baby’s stem cells for such a long period.

The fact that the few cells taken from the baby’s cord blood can possibly save the life of the baby, a sibling, and even the parents at some point in time in the future means that stem cell banks are flourishing. Among the diseases that stored stem cells can work against are acute leukemias, autoimmune diseases, chronic leukemias, congenital immune system disorders and histiocytic disorders.

How are stem cells obtained?

Stem cells hold much promise in bringing about medical breakthroughs in form of treatment for previously incurable diseases and conditions like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or paralysis. These “blank” cells are capable of self-rejuvenation and also transforming into a functional cell; it is these attributes of a stem cell that make them invaluable to scientists.

However, to experiment on the stem cells, they must at first be obtained and the mode of collection is where the controversy originates. There are two main types of stem cells, embryonic and adult stem cells. In order to collect the pluripotent embryonic stem cells, the human embryo must be killed as it can only be extracted from the innermost cellular layers of the blastocyst after just four days of fertilization.

It is therefore not hard to understand as why killing a human embryo, which could have otherwise been borne as a human baby, is considered equivalent to murder by a lot of people. Even people who would not go as far as calling it murder, usually admit to the procedure being disturbing in terms of ethics at least.

Adult stem cells come from various sources and contrary to what the name may suggest, it does not only come from fully grown human beings. It is just that they are comparatively grown and different than the embryonic stem cells. The placenta and the umbilical cord blood are both rich sources of adult stem cells, the former being even richer than the latter. Our bone marrow contains multipotent stem cells and it is possible to extract these cells clinically, but the procedure is immensely painful for the donor and may even be considered risky.

Unlike the extraction of the embryonic stem cells, extracting adult stem cells is not controversial. Ethicists do not support the killing of an embryo for the sake of medical progress, however bright the future may seem, but bio ethicists do understand the importance of stem cell experimentation and thus do not consider extraction of adult stem cells from various sources to be unethical as long as it is agreed upon voluntarily by the donor or the guardian of the concerned source.