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Stem cell myths busted

Online since 4.10.2017 • Filed under Feature • From Issue Fifteen - October to December 2017 page(s) 16-18
Stem cell myths busted

The term ‘stem cell’ gleans different reactions from people both in the medical community and the wider public. Still an emerging science, but with immense possibilities, stem cell research is shrouded in many myths and misconceptions. Cryo-Save considers the top myths and clarifies facts regarding this fast-growing medical treatment.

Myth 1: Stem cell storage is costly

Stem cell storage is available to anyone who would like to store their baby’s umbilical cord stem cells.

Cryo-Save has multiple cost options and interest-free payment plans from as little as R250.00 per month to store cord blood, and R350.00 per month for storing both cord blood and tissue.

Myth 2: All stem cells are the same

When you hear ‘stem cells’, you may not know exactly what these are or conjure up images of a certain cloned sheep. Stem cells are the body’s internal repair system. They continuously replace dead or diseased cells with new, healthy cells to ensure normal body function.

We differentiate between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are powerful because they are pluripotent – they can develop into any type of cell in your body. But they’re often controversial because of their origin and are not part of the stem cell storage services offered by Cryo-Save.

Multipotent, or adult, stem cells are found throughout the body and they form only certain tissue cells, maintaining your body’s organs as you age – for example blood forming stem cells and mesenchymal stem cells. Since 1998, researchers have successfully used umbilical cord stem cells (taken from a new-born’s cord blood), to treat leukaemia and other blood disorders since 1998. Stem cells from a baby’s umbilical cord are considered adult stem cells and these precious cells, if not cryopreserved, are discarded as medical waste in many instances.

Myth 3: Umbilical cord stem cells can only be used for your baby

Your baby’s umbilical cord stem cells are a 100% perfect match for your baby, and biological parents’ stem cells will be at least a half match. There is a 25% probability of matching siblings and, unlike bone marrow transplants, you don’t have to have a perfect match in transplants when making use of cord blood stem cells.

Myth 4: I didn’t store my first child’s stem cells. Is there any point in storing my second child’s?

Just as some people need organ transplants to treat or cure diseases, blood stem cells can be transplanted too. If the blood forming stem cells in our bodies cannot produce healthy cells or stop producing cells completely, we cannot function normally and our stem cells will have to be replaced with healthy ones that can be found in the bone marrow or umbilical cord blood.

Sometimes these stem cells are your own, and sometimes they will come from a donor. Cord blood contains powerful stem cells. If your baby gets ill in the future, you may be able to use these cells as treatment. One of the contributing factors is that partially matched cord blood stem cells can be used for transplantation, increasing the chances of finding a suitable match. Today, umbilical cord blood stem cells are used in more than a third of all blood stem cell transplants in the world. Therefore, storing your second child’s stem cells has the possibility – depending on the degree of matching – to treat your first child and possibly other family members, too, should a stem cell transplant be needed.

Myth 5: Stem cell storage is only available overseas

Cryo-Save has been storing umbilical cord stem cells for families all over the world since 2000. It is the leading family stem cell bank in Europe and Africa, storing more than 310 000 samples. Cryo-Save South Africa offers both local and international storage options in either Pretoria or Europe for both cord blood and cord tissue. This local facility complies with the highest international standards and importantly complies to the coveted AABB accreditation standards.

Myth 6: Mixed race parents can’t store stem cells

On average, the chances of finding a perfectly matching blood stem cell donor for allogeneic transplant, are only 1 in 100 000. These odds are significantly worse for people from a mixed descent.

However, despite its diverse ethnic make-up, South Africa (nor the rest of the continent) has a public cord blood stem cell bank, which makes the likelihood of finding a matching donor even more challenging. Should a child from mixed descent be diagnosed with a blood-related cancer or disorder, the search for a possible stem cell match can be debilitating to a family’s finances and hope for recovery. Therefore, Cryo-Save encourages mixed race families to store their babies’ stem cells.

Myth 7: Stem cell banking is only for families with a history of cancer

This myth is deceptive and dangerous. The uses of cord blood stem cells have extended far beyond treatments for cancer. Researchers have invigorated the field of regenerative medicine through innovative uses of stem cells. To say that someone doesn’t need to store cord blood because there isn’t a family history of cancer completely discredits the expansive work being done to identify treatments for all these other conditions. It’s true that cord blood research started with a foundation in blood-related diseases such as Leukaemia, but what many people don’t realise is that stem cells now play a part in the treatment of over 80 varying diseases and conditions.

Furthermore, there are countless clinical trials taking place that are seeking to push the boundaries of regenerative medicine.

Myth 8: Stem cell collection is a risky medical procedure

Collecting stem cells from an umbilical cord blood is quick, painless and non-invasive, posing no medical risk to mother or baby. Once a baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut – a standard medical procedure. It is only after the clamping that the blood and tissue are collected from the umbilical cord for stem cell processing. The stem cells are collected from the umbilical cord, which is usually discarded as medical waste after the baby’s birth.

Myth 9: Your gynaecologist is the only person that can perform the stem cord cell collection process

As more patients choose to collect their baby’s cord blood, doctors are becoming increasingly familiar with the collection process. However, if your doctor has never done a cord blood collection before, Cryo-Save’s dedicated team of representatives provides simple step-by-step instructions with all the collection kits they supply. The Cryo-Save medical director is available to provide any telephonic support to healthcare professionals prior to the procedure. Cryo-Save can also arrange for its own registered nurse to conduct the collection process.

Myth 10: Stem cell banking cannot be combined with delayed cord clamping

With more parents wanting to store their child’s umbilical cord blood and delayed cord clamping being recommended in certain circumstances, the question arises: ‘Are umbilical cord blood banking and delayed cord clamping mutually exclusive?’ The answer is no, and it is possible to do both. The placenta and umbilical cord hold enough blood to allow delaying the cord clamping by one minute (the recommended time given by the World Health Organization) and still have enough for a successful cord blood collection. Chances of a successful collection will naturally increase by combining in + ex utero collection.

Myth 11: Stem cell banking is only possible with vaginal/caesarean birth

Cord blood and cord tissue collections are safe for both vaginal and caesarean deliveries.

Myth 12: The ultimate cure for everything

Blood stem cell transplantation, using stem blood cells from sources such as bone marrow, has been performed for more than 50 years and plays an important role in treatmenting bone marrow failures, blood cancers, blood disorders, metabolic diseases, immune deficiencies and autoimmune diseases. Stem cell therapies are now becoming as important to the medical field as antibiotics were for the 20th Century. Yet, stem cell procedures are not the answer to every degenerative condition. Cryo-Save puts an emphasis on educating potential patients and helping them make well-informed treatment decisions.

Myth 13: Storing stem cells is a ‘health insurance’

Each case is unique and only the treating physician can determine match eligibility. Stem cell research is promising but its applicable use has only just begun. As research continues into stem cells and their flexibility, the list of possible treatments grows. Therefore, storing stem cells is not a health insurance but an investment in the future of healthcare.

Myth 14: Religious opposition to stem cell research

There are various categories or sources of stem cells, adult stem cells and stem cells from cellular reprogramming. Certain religions oppose only one of these categories: embryonic stem cell research. This is because the cells are taken from embryos that are up to fourteen days old, invariably destroying that early human life. The Catholic Church, for example, supports most categories of research involving stem cells, and supports every ethical form of stem cell research. However, it has a firm position against embryonic stem cell research.

Myth 15: Bone marrow provides the best source of stem cells

Wrong! Bone marrow is one of the sources of stem cells, but not the best one. Stem cells are often called master cells and form the foundation for your entire body as building blocks for the blood, immune system, tissue and organs. They can replicate or regenerate themselves and can differentiate into any one of 220 different specialised cells in the body. Studies show that cord blood transplants can be performed in cases where the donor and the recipient are only partially matched. In contrast, bone marrow grafts require a perfect degree match in most cases. Because partially matched cord blood transplants can be performed, cord blood potentially increases a patient’s chance to find a suitable donor. As treatment uses are developing, these stem cells may have potential that is currently not even known.


As one of the specialised divisions in the Ecsponent private equity stable, Ecsponent Biotech invests in products and services that promote the adoption of personalised and regenerative medicine for South Africans to improve their quality of life.
Ecsponent Biotech focuses on advancing children’s health by providing access to affordable, lifesaving technologies. Investments in international and local brands combine the technical excellence of leading biotech organisations with Ecsponent’s local business expertise, including Cryo-Save (Europe’s largest stem cell bank) and Salveo Swiss Biotechnology (Geneva-based leader in predictive medicine). For more information about Cryo-Save or stem cell storage, call 087 8080 170 or email info@cryo-save.co.za.

Issue Fifteen - October to December 2017

Issue Fifteen - October to December 2017

This article was featured on page 16-18 of Babys and Beyond Issue Fifteen - October to December 2017 .

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Meg Faure
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