More MS news articles for February 2001

Parents can freeze babesí stem cells

Gerard Burke

IT IS hailed as the ultimate health insurance - the chance for parents to give their child the means to defeat a range of previously incurable illnesses.

For less than £600, parents are now able to freeze their newborn babiesí stem cells, which can be used to treat a range of diseases for decades to come.

Stem cells are unformed cells which can be made to grow into any tissue in the body, replacing damaged nerves, brain tissue, blood, organs, skin or bone. Unlike a transplant, the new tissue would genetically identical to the patient so there are no dangerous side effects or problems with rejection.

Scientists believe stem cells are the key to the treatment and cure of some of the most degenerative illnesses which afflict humanity. Early research has revealed the prospect of a simple procedure to combat conditions ranging from leukaemia, diabetes and multiple sclerosis to Parkinsonís disease, some forms of cancer and Alzheimers. They could also be used to repair the damage caused by a stroke.

The most convenient source of the potentially life-saving cells in in the umbilical cord of a newborn baby and doctors believe it will soon be common place for these to be harvested at birth to be stored in case they are needed in later life.

Cryo-Care claims it can preserve the cells in liquid nitrogen for at least 20 years using the latest techniques.

The first samples of umbilical blood will soon be ready to be shipped off for storage at a special facility near Brussels. Derek Tuffnell, a gynaecologist at Bradford Royal Infirmary, will collect the first stem cells under Cryo-Careís scheme, he said: " I have two children and when I heard about this technique I asked my wife if she thought it was a good idea. We agreed that if we ever had a third we would certainly pay for it."