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Cord Blood Banks are Not Stem Cell Clinics

A recent story filed by Agence France-Presse (AFP), a Paris-based news service, offered a very misleading perspective on the current state of cord blood banking as well as the legitimate medical use of cord blood stem cells. 

In essence, the reporter failed to recognize the difference between overseas “stem cell clinics” offering “unproven cures” and accredited cord blood banks in the U.S. that are facilitating FDA-approved research using a child’s own cord blood stem cells for new medical uses.

The story focused on comments made by one stem cell researcher, Dr. Irving Weissman, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  Dr. Weissman appropriately denounces the practices of non-accredited “stem cell clinics,” which are often based in foreign countries with poor medical regulations, that offer infusions of stem cells as definitive treatments for a wide range of conditions.  Several medical bodies and institutions have raised concerns about the inability of these clinics to substantiate their medical claims as well as the risk they pose to patient safety.

This is very different from the scientifically-valid and regulatory-approved research occurring in countries like the U.S. where pioneering physicians are studying the use of a child’s own cord blood stem cells as treatments for type 1 diabetes(1) and cerebral palsy(2).   In fact, just last week Medical College of Georgia announced a new FDA-approved clinical trial to evaluate the use of a child’s own cord blood stem cells to treat cerebral palsy.  It’s important to know that participants in these clinical trials were eligible because they had access to their own, genetically-unique cord blood stem cells because their parents made the decision to privately bank them at birth.

The protocols for these clinical trials require participants to have access to their own cord blood stem cells because they provide a guaranteed biological tissue match, do not require preparatory therapies like chemotherapy, do not pose the immune complications of donor cell infusions, and eliminate the need for anti-rejection drugs which can create complications.  In other words, using a child’s own cord blood stem cells allows researchers to explore the potential of these cells in a way that is safe for patients. 

It’s also important to note, that cord blood stem cells have been used for more than two decades to treat nearly 80 conditions, including certain cancers, blood disorders and immune diseases.  Furthermore, stem cell researchers and leading medical organizations recognize that cord blood stem cells have unique characteristics.  In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that cord blood stem cells “offers several distinct advantages” over other sources of stem cells when used in treatments for these types of conditions(3). 
 
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(1)Clincialtrials.gov. Umbilical Cord Blood Infusion to Treat Type 1 Diabetes. University of Florida. http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00305344?term=cord+blood+and+diabetes&rank=1. Accessed February 2010.
(2)Clinicaltrials.gov. Safety and Effectiveness of Cord Blood Stem Cell Infusion for the Treatment of Cerebral Palsy in Children. Medical College of Georgia. http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01072370?term=cerebral+palsy+and+cord+blood&rank=1. Accessed February 2010.
(3)ACOG Committee Opinion. Umbilical Cord Blood Banking. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2008;111(2):475-477.

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