Smart Cells International (SCI) says that would-be or expectant parents are still unclear on the potential of cord blood stem cells to address illnesses or injuries that can occur many years in the future. The UK's leading cord blood stem cell collection and storage organisation says a few minutes planning key actions for the few seconds after birth could have massively positive ramifications as much as two-and-a-half decades or more in the future.

But many new parents don't appreciate that there is only one short window to collect arguably the most valuable source of stem cells - from the umbilical cord, at birth.

"There is still some confusion over the different sources of stem cells. They can be collected in several ways - from blood or bone marrow - but cord blood is vastly more valuable as a source of stem cells than other known sources of cells," Dr Peter Hollands, a senior lecturer in biosciences at the University of Westminster, and a director of Smart Cells.

"If the umbilical cord, and the cord blood, are disposed of at birth, then there will never be another chance to collect these stem cells.

"If a child, or other family member, suffers injury or illness, then cord blood stem cells collected at birth can be transplanted at the time of treatment.

"Today, stem cell therapy is an accepted method of treating many diseases and cord blood is currently used in the treatment of blood related disorders such as leukaemia and thalassaemia.

"Ongoing scientific research has shown the potential of umbilical cord blood stem cells in the possible treatment of a wide variety of medical conditions which may benefit from tissue repair or regeneration, such as nerve or tissue damage."

Smart Cells opened Europe's most advanced stem cell processing laboratory and storage facility near Heathrow Airport in March 2009.

It has previously sub-contracted storage, and will progressively transfer around 16,000 samples to the new labs. But the new facility's location could prove to be of crucial importance, particularly for storage of cord blood cells collected abroad.

"The UK is considered to be a world leader in all aspects of stem cell processing and storage, and is consequently the international destination of choice - so we receive many cord blood units from around the world," said Dr Hollands.

"Because of the proximity of the labs to Heathrow Airport, this brings the best and most modern cord blood stem cell collection and storage facility to a potentially vast worldwide audience."

The processing and storage facility - which gained its Human Tissue Authority Licence in February 2009 - is in West Drayton, a few miles north of Heathrow Airport.

Dr Peter Daly of Smart Cells said: "The new cord blood processing and storage facility is a state-of-the-art Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) facility. GMP means that it complies with the standards used in pharmaceutical manufacture for environmental conditions and robust reproducible processes and systems.

"This is a modern facility with the latest design and materials used in its construction and the most modern air handling system. The facility uses Sepax equipment for separating out the plasma and red blood cells from the stem cells. This is the industry gold standard which is used widely in public cord blood banks.

"An exceptionally pure air facility, clean room area, closed systems and a range of advanced features lift the standard of facility way beyond most facilities in Europe.

"Stem cells are highly specialised cells which, when stimulated to do so, have the capability to produce many types of cell and tissue found in the human body. Cord blood represents one source of stem cells and this is one of the reasons so may parents are choosing to save their baby's cord blood stem cells at the time of birth."

Smart Cells, formed in February 2001, collects stem cells on behalf of families worldwide and stores samples at its labs in West Drayton near London Heathrow Airport in the UK. Smart Cells' lab provides cord blood preparation and storage in an environment designed to comply with all current and foreseeable European medical guidelines and practices.

Smart Cells International is fully licensed by the Human Tissue Authority and holds licence no 22522.

Smart Cells International

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