We need to talk about stem cells

For patients with leukemia – and other blood conditions – stem cell transplants can mean the difference between life and death. Stems cells are used in patients with leukemia where the bone marrow is producing disease cells, has been damaged during chemotherapy or has spontaneously failed so no longer produces the cells we need. Stem cells can replace themselves and replace cells in those tissues which are damaged, worn out or have just died.

Neural stem cells Ⓒ Joseph Elsbernd via Flickr

Neural stem cells
Ⓒ Joseph Elsbernd via Flickr

But 18 years since the first cord blood transplants were performed in the UK, public knowledge on this life-saving process is still lacking. A study of over 4,000 people conduced by YouGov found that because of the lack of awareness that umbilical cord blood and tissue can be stored there is a major shortage of stem cells in the UK. Just 9% of patients stored cord blood when they gave birth and it is estimated that 400 patients each year miss out on treatment due to a lack of suitable stem cell donors.

Remarkably, among those who are aware they could store their cells, the majority chose not to over concerns that it would interfere with the birth of a child (26% of people surveyed) and almost half (47%) were deterred by the cost. Private storage ranges from £2000-£3000 and guarantees you’re your donated tissue will be available should your child become ill. Donations to the NHS are free but these are immediately made available for public use. The process is completely risk free however and poses no threat to the child or mother.

Scientists continue to explore whether stem cells can be used to treat other diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and to repair tissues that have been damaged via a heart attack or stroke. At present these treatments are still in the research stage. In order to conduct this research however, they need the raw materials. Last year, the government invested millions into NHS stem cell services and now we need to raise public awareness.

On Broadcast released this video on 8th October 2014 to coincide with Stem Cell Awareness Day. But promotion is needed all year round to decrease the percentage of people who were unaware that umbilical cord blood and tissue can be stored (a staggering 32% of Britons). With more people aware and willing to donate, the thicker the wall this disease has to fight against.

 

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In the video:

Professor Mark Johnson – Professor of Clinical Obstetrics at Imperial College London and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital gives a brief explanation on what stem cells are.

Anett Kristyak from Middlesex stored the cord blood and tissue for both her children after learning about them 10 years ago. For Anett, it was important to protect her children’s future.

Shamshad Ahmed from Smart Cells International explains the process of collecting and storing stem cells at his clinic and also highlights an alternative to storing them at private banks – via the NHS.  

About the Author

Olivia is a graduate of Nottingham University where she read English. Olivia has written for schools magazine First Eleven, and been an intern at Conde Nast, and will be contributing articles on twentysomething health issues.

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