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Your Baby’s Cord Blood Is A Potential Lifesaver

Your Baby’s Cord Blood Is A Potential Lifesaver

As you’re preparing for your child’s much-anticipated birth, you may be physically busy with buying diapers and arranging confinement meals. You may also be mentally busy with future planning such as investing for the future, or worrying about potential crises that may arise. Worried as you may be, that is perfectly common; it may sometimes even feel like a parent’s job is to worry. But Rajesh Nair, CEO of Cryoviva Singapore, wants you to rest assured about your baby’s health. This little-known solution can put countless anxieties to rest – and it’s mind-blowingly simple, too.

Have you ever wondered what hospitals do with your baby’s umbilical cord after birth? “Throw it away, of course,” you might say. Well, that’s true, but did you know that a baby’s cord blood contains precious stem cells that can help treat dozens of diseases? Instead of discarding your baby’s life-saving cord blood as medical waste, you might want to seriously consider saving it.

It’s not a radical, experimental procedure, either. Cord blood stem cell treatment has been around since 1988, when the very first successful transplantation was performed on a child with a rare form of hereditary leukaemia. Without these essential stem cells saved from cord blood, this cancer would’ve likely been fatal, as shown from previous cases. However, with this treatment, the child grew up healthily and is now nearing his forties!

To find out what cord blood is and what it can achieve here, we spoke to an expert from one of the top cord blood banks in Singapore. Beginning in early 2014, Cryoviva is now known as one of the leading private cord blood banks in Singapore and has stored over 160,000 cord blood units at their local state-of-the-art laboratory and storage facility. Besides our tiny island, this MOH-licenced, AABB-accredited, and IS ISO 9001:2015 QMS-Certified organisation is also highly established in ASEAN countries like Thailand and Vietnam, and even the Middle East.

The CEO of Cryoviva Singapore, Rajesh Nair, has over a decade of experience in the cord blood banking industry, and has been at the helm of various global divisions of the organisation. But what truly matters aren’t just his credentials: he fully understands that as parents, your major concerns revolve around financial costs, reliability, and the safety and security of your baby’s precious cord blood. That is why Cryoviva is backed by strong investors with multi-billion portfolios and a long-term view, ensuring a robust and secure presence in Singapore.

Meanwhile, their Medical Director Dr. Toh, with his 50-plus years of medical experience, has also been instrumental in starting the first cord blood bank in Singapore, all the way back in 2005. With accolades from prestigious institutions like Singapore’s Academy of Medicine, the Royal College of Physicians (UK), and the International Society of Haematology, this author of many medical publications is also an essential consultant to many recognized hospitals in Singapore, such as Gleneagles Hospital and Mt. Elizabeth Hospital.

All that to say: Dr. Toh from Cryoviva is definitely the go-to person to find out more about cord blood stem cell treatment and cord blood banking.

What is a cord blood bank? What does it do?

A cord blood bank is just as it sounds: an institution where mothers can store and keep their baby’s cord blood at the time of birth. This has come about because of the recognition that cord blood is rich in stem cells – root cells which give rise to other cells in the body.

The hallmark properties of a stem cell, especially cord blood stem cells, are its abilities to:

- regenerate itself without losing any part of itself in doing so

- participate in reproductive, regenerative, replacement activities in the body

- differentiate and become other cells and tissues.

Stem cells are like the body’s raw material, to create other cells with specialized functions. No other cell can do that naturally – only stem cells can.

Why is saving a baby’s cord blood so important? How likely, or often, is it even needed?

Like how a six-year-old boy diagnosed with a rare type of leukaemia has been cured, cord blood stem cell treatment has been proven to treat more than 80 diseases, which otherwise would have been untreatable or at most had ineffective outcomes.

For any parents unfortunate enough to have a baby who needs stem cell treatment, cord blood is extremely important. Besides various deadly forms of cancer, cord blood stem cells can also help to treat blood disorders, immune deficiency syndromes, cerebral palsy, and ongoing studies have even shown that it may help in managing some spectrums of autism. Some other diseases include issues with the central nervous system that are usually attributed to injury at birth, anaemia, and even osteoporosis.

One case that I remember is where a pair of parents had the foresight to store cord blood from their children’s births. A few years later, their children developed cerebral palsy, which is a group of disorders that affect someone’s ability to move properly. So this was a case where the children benefitted from their parents’ decision to save and store their cord blood.

How does the process work exactly? Is it troublesome?

Not at all! It is completely non-invasive and fuss-free to the mother or baby. The harvesting of stem cells from the baby’s umbilical cord, cord blood, and cord tissue, must be done at the baby’s birth. After delivery, the baby is safely separated from the mother’s cord, and then a team of medical professionals take whatever is left of the cord blood and tissue. Sometimes, even the obstetrician themselves, or the assisting nurse, can do it, because they have all been sufficiently trained by Cryoviva.

You guys do your own training? That’s very cool.

Yes, we provide training and even regular maintenance and upgrading of knowledge. There are also people manning a 24/7 hotline, and a technical team is always on standby. Just in case anyone handling a delivery needs help or requires clarification.

Cryoviva is also centrally located at Bishan, for the shortest traveling times of your baby’s cord blood to the lab and storage facility, to ensure maximum cell viability.

We’re also working with almost every hospital in Singapore, - both public and private hospitals.

Are there any advantages of private cord blood banking?

Sometimes if the mother decides to store the cord blood in the public cord blood bank, it becomes part of the national register – which means it is available to anybody who has a matching criteria. You’re essentially donating the cord blood away, similar to how a regular blood bank works. Likewise, if in future you or your child needs the cord blood stem cells for a treatment, you may not be able to retrieve that particular unit of cord blood.

However, if you engage a private cord blood bank, the cord blood belongs to you and your family, as long as you continue to pay for the facilities. When the child reaches 21 years of age, the ownership of the cord blood reverts to the mother or the individual (child who is now grown), who can decide what to do with the saved cord blood.

A few years ago, a young man from Thailand was suffering from acute leukaemia. He was treated, but stem cell transplant was advised as part of the final phase. He didn’t have any cord blood stored for himself, so he went to a public bank to find a suitable donor – which he did. But on the very day of the transplant, the donor’s name remained on the register, but went missing; he was nowhere to be found. So that’s the danger or disadvantage of a public register and public cord blood bank.

You mentioned that in Cryoviva, the cord blood belongs to the family. Does this mean parents or siblings can use the baby’s cord blood as well?

In every transplant, whether it is lung, kidney, heart – whatever it is, there has to be a COMPLETE match between donor and recipient. You need transplant antigen matching, or HLA typing (human leukocyte antigen), which MUST satisfy every condition of gene-matching.

But one of the greatest advantages of cord blood stem cells is that there can be a tolerance of some discrepancy between the donor and recipient. Hence, it greatly increases the repertoire and availability of donors to family members who need it.

In the world of transplant using stem cells – not just from cord blood – you are widening the circle. Like throwing a pebble into water, the circle enlarges: more conditions can get treated, with more successful outcomes.

How long can cord blood be stored for?

Theoretically, under the right conditions, such as a preserved environment where the temperature is always -200 degrees Celsius, in liquid nitrogen, and along with other settings…stem cells can be stored perpetually. We know this also because cord blood banking has been around for 30 to 40 years. But from a banking point-of-view, we usually store the blood for at least 21 years or more.

Are there any myths or misconceptions about cord blood that you would like to address?

There might be rumours that cord blood banking produces harm, such as the harvesting of cord blood being detrimental to the baby, or it will deprive the baby of blood, cause anaemia or pain, it’s dangerous, etc. All these are completely baseless and there have been absolutely no pain, nor any danger to mother or baby, being reported. If you think about it, it’s just biological waste that would otherwise be thrown away. The umbilical cord has already been cut away from both mother and baby. How could it cause any harm or pain?

That’s true. Thank you for sharing with us your valuable insights on cord blood banking in Singapore and how mothers (and fathers) can be better prepared for their future.

It is my pleasure. This is a very exciting area of medicine – we are seeing new vistas being opened with the use of stem cells in medical treatment. 

And there you have it! Straight from the expert’s mouth: How saving your baby’s cord blood at birth can mean the difference between life and death, or at the very least, let you be prepared for any medical circumstances that may arise later in life. Cryoviva Singapore is dedicated to delivering total peace of mind to their clients, knowing that they are not only storing blood, but also going a long way to securing futures.

 

 

 

 

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