What Is the Difference between Cord Blood Stem Cells and Embryonic Stem Cells Used in Research?
You may have heard of the ethical debate surrounding stem cell research. This debate is focused on the use of embryonic stem cells. If you are considering banking your child’s cord blood, rest assured that cord blood stem cells are not part of this controversy.
Many people oppose the use of embryonic stem cells because a human embryo must be destroyed to harvest these cells. Cord blood stem cells are not embryonic stem cells, but are instead part of an uncontroversial group of stem cells called adult stem cells. No embryos are destroyed in the collection of cord blood stem cells.
Embryonic Stem Cells
Embryonic stem cells are a type of stem cell derived from embryos fertilized in an in vitro fertilization clinic. These cells are not derived directly from embryos developing in a woman’s body.
The embryos that are used to isolate embryonic stem cells are usually about four or five days old and referred to as blastocysts. The inner cell mass of the blastocyst contains about 30 cells that scientists can isolate and transfer to a culture dish. In this culture dish, the cells divide and proliferate. In only 6 months time, the total number of embryonic stem cells can be in the millions.
Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means they have the ability to give rise to all other cell types in the human body. It is this property that is intriguing to researchers. If it is determined how these cells differentiate into specific cells in the human body, scientists may be able to create cultures of specific cell types. Stem cell transplants using these cells may be the key to successfully treating diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart disease, and even spinal cord injuries.
Cord Blood Stem Cells
Cord blood stem cells are not embryonic stem cells and are free from the controversy that surrounds them. In fact, cord blood stem cells belong to a different group of stem cells entirely called adult stem cells. No embryos are destroyed in the collected of cord blood stem cells.
Cord blood refers to the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and in the placenta after birth. Typically, the umbilical cord and placenta are discarded, but the blood found inside is rich in a type of stem cell called hematopoietic stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells can differentiate into all types of blood cells and are currently used to treat over 70 diseases such as leukemia and other cancers.
The hematopoietic stem cell is the most frequently studied and used stem cell. Additionally, these cells have the largest proven application to clinical practice and have been used in transplantation for over 30 years!