Stem cell storage: Invest in your family’s future health
Young families are often inundated with advice on how to invest in their futures. Minimising income tax, investing in children’s education, investment planning and asset allocation, tax-efficient earnings, income splitting, etc. Although this is important, what about investing in the future health of your children? How can you do this?
Stem cells are a type of cell that holds the potential to differentiate into different cell types and self-renew. The interest in stem cells in the medical field is at an all-time high. This is reflected in a number of scientific publications about stem cells increasing every year (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Global publication count. The graph shows data for all stem cells (Stem Cells), ES cells (all organisms; ESCs), hES cells (hESCs), and iPS cells (iPSCs) from 1996-2012. Source: Scopus
Stem cells have shown amazing promise in the treatment and cure of some previously chronic and deadly diseases. Today, over 70 diseases are treated using stem cells, including numerous types of malignancies, anaemia, inherited metabolic disorders and deficiencies of the immune system. The number of clinical trials involving stem cells is also on the rise (Figure 2). In all likelihood, the applications for stem cells in medicine will multiply as these trials reach completion.
Figure 2: Total number of stem cell trials between 2011 and 2014 continues to rise. Source: Trends in cell therapy clinical trials 2011 – 2014, (2014), ALEXEY BERSENEV, Cell trials.
How do stem cells and their amazing regenerative potential relate to investing in your child’s future health? Well, at birth, the child is connected to the placenta via the umbilical cord. This cord and the placenta are usually discarded at birth. However, the umbilical cord contains an incredibly valuable collection of powerful stem cells capable of being used to treat an ever-increasing number of diseases. Saving these cells at birth is a wise decision, especially if you have a family history of genetic disease.
There are some commentators that warn against the storage of your child’s stem cells in a private bank. They suggest that if your child inherits a genetic disease which is treatable using stem cells, the stored stem cells will contain the same genetic mutation that caused the disease. The child’s stem cells are, therefore, useless. However, new advances in gene editing, including but not limited to CRISPR-Cas9, allow the potential to correct the mutated genes in the stem cells, potentially allowing them to be used in treatment (Figure 3). When gene-editing becomes commonplace, all stored stem cells will be valuable, should a family require them.
Figure 3: The mechanism by which CRISPR/Cas9 repairs gene mutations. Source: Advanced Analytical.
With stem cells being discovered as useful agents in treating more and more diseases, along with the development of novel ways to edit out gene mutations, there has never been a better time to invest in the future health of your family and store your children’s stem cells.