I recently had the opportunity to learn about the viability of cord blood preservation and the impact it can have on the lives of children who may, unfortunately, become ill. Admittedly, I knew little about the process of cord blood banking, and subsequent use of cord blood, and how it might be important to families. That’s why I took the opportunity to learn from the ViaCord team, courtesy of BlogHer, Inc. The presentation was led by Kate Falcon Girard, RN/MSN, former L&D nurse, principal clinical affairs specialist; and Morey Kraus, a stem cell biologist.
I met a great group of women from all walks of life. I’m a social worker, so the women with medical and other scientific backgrounds intrigued me. As a social worker, I’m always looking for new ways to help people, specifically marginalized people or those who are most vulnerable. As I listened to this presentation, I learned that cord blood banking could have a huge impact on people of the African Diaspora and I have to share!
First, the scientific stuff: I learned that a stem cell can replicate and become another stem cell or it can divide and break down and become a different type of cell based on some of the material in the original cell. Hematopoietic stem cells, specifically, are blood forming stem cells that can help create and repair the blood and immune system. This type of stem cell is found in the umbilical cord blood. You can read more about how stem cells and transplants work via Viacord’s user-friendly site.
Why is this development especially important to Black people?
Sickle Cell Anemia is prevalent mostly within people who are from the African Diaspora. While it exists in others (rarely), it is primarily found among Black people. Sickle Cell Anemia, when active in a person, can be rather debilitating. The crises can disrupt a person’s functioning and totally change their lives, altering the extent to which people can live and enjoy the daily activities of life. I have a friend who has active Sickle Cell Anemia and I’ve witnessed how her life revolves around these crises. It can be a tough road and curing this disease could bring about a huge improvement in the lives of those stricken by it.
At the event, I learned that children can be cured of Sickle cell Anemia with the help of a cord blood transplant and my mind was blown. I did more research and found that adults can be cured with stem cell transplants, too! Something that has plagued my people for so long can be cured? Wow. The team at ViaCord explained that by replacing the blood of a sick child with the healthy cord blood of another child, a child with Sickle Cell Anemia trait could be cured of the disease before crises onset. This is amazing, right? ViaCord has a blog post on the topic if you are interested in learning more.
Well, how amazing is it if people don’t know about it, right? I raised the issue of accessibility and knowledge of cord blood banking, and whether or not Black parents were aware of the options. I also asked about affordability and how we can increase access to cord blood banking, because of what they said is true, this could revolutionize the way we think about diseases like Sickle Cell Anemia.
I learned that there are affordable options and financial assistance for those in need. The cost of cord blood banking has decreased by 40% since the process began and there are companies that offer money-saving options like sibling bank free programs. When I realized cord blood banking was about $1200 a year, I realized that lack of knowledge might be the biggest issues for many of us; we simply don’t know this is a viable option! I remember receiving a pamphlet when my son was born, but I paid it little attention because there was so much information given to me, that it was overwhelming. But for $100/month, a family can preserve life-saving, life-improving cord blood and tissue, which could be huge for the future of their children’s health.
My hope is that more families, especially of the African Diaspora, are able to learn more about cord blood banking and the multiple possibilities related to transfusions and such. Right now, cord blood stem cells can be used in the treatment of nearly 80 diseases and there are trials going on right now using cord blood stem cells for Cerebral Palsey, Diabetes, and Autism. I want to do my part and I’m glad to have attended this information session so that I can spread the word about this valuable option.
This is huge. I hope more people check out the research and look into companies, like ViaCord, that are blazing the trails in supporting scientists who are working on improving cord blood research, treatments, and banking for the future.