Scientists at Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland have found a second life for placentas. Annie Glausser reports.
[SCIENCE NOTE THEME]
GLAUSSER: It’s the only organ to develop in adulthood. It’s the only organ to have a definite end point. And it could be the ticket to an abundant, cheap supply of stem cells. It is the placenta – a little known organ with big potential.
Normally, the placenta is discarded after it’s completed its task of nurturing a baby. But new science questions this knee-jerk disposal. Scientists at Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland say the placenta is an excellent source of blood stem cells that could provide every baby with a lifelong cell supply.
Blood stem cells are used to treat many blood disorders, such as leukemia and sickle cell disease. After birth, a placenta can be infused with cryopreservatives, frozen and stored. If stem cells are needed, the organ can be thawed and the cells extracted. The idea of harvesting blood stem cells after birth is not new. Umbilical cord blood has been collected since the 90s.
While people pay around $1000 up front for private cord blood banking – as well as about $100 a year for storage – there’s also a free public program. The public program gives cord blood to those in need, now, rather than saving it for a specific individual. Stem cells from the placenta are potentially even more useful than cord blood simply because there are more of them – three to five times more in fact. Placenta stem cells could help treat the nearly 16,000 people with serious blood-related disorders who are currently unable to find a matching donor. So, while the focus is on mother and baby during labor, it may be wise to think twice before tossing the afterbirth tissue, after birth. That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Annie Glausser.
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