AN EVER-GROWING number of transplants using blood harvested from the placenta and umbilical cord of newborn infants are pointing the way toward a new approach for treating cancer, serious blood disorders, and perhaps a range of other illnesses, from inherited diseases to AIDS.
The reason cord blood holds such promise is that it contains the same vital stem and progenitor hematopoietic cells found in bone marrow. These key cells, whether from marrow or cord blood, have the potential to "self-renew," or regenerate themselves, and to differentiate into the entire menagerie of blood cells required by the body.
However, there is increasing evidence that cord blood provides some distinct advantages, both logistic and biological, over bone marrow transplants. For example, cord blood can be obtained noninvasively at the time of delivery and stored for months or years, available on demand for later use—either by the donor, if he or she later