Cord Blood Stem Cell Terminology | ViaCord

Knowledge is PowerNavigate the cord blood stem cell world with this glossary of terms

Understanding all the words that are a part of the cord blood stem cell world can be challenging. Sometimes, it can feel like you need a medical dictionary with you when trying to read an article or have a conversation on the topic. While we normally try to define terms within our blogs, we’re creating a one-stop-blog for most of your cord blood stem cell terminology needs. We hope you find it helpful as you explore other places for information on these valuable stem cells.

Breaking down the most common terms

Cord blood:  Umbilical cord blood, or cord blood, is the blood remaining in the umbilical cord after a baby is born. Cord blood contains a variety of cells including red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, platelets and is also rich in hematopoietic stem cells.  Read more about cord blood here >>

Hematopoietic stem cell (HSC):  A type of stem cell found in cord blood. Hematopoietic stem cells are blood forming stem cells meaning they can create and repair the blood and the immune system. HSCs can help treat nearly 80 diseases today, including certain cancers, genetic diseases, immune system deficiencies, and blood disorders. They are also being used in clinical trials for regenerative therapies to help treat conditions such Type I diabetes and cerebral palsy.  Read more about HSCs  here >>

Human leukocyte antigen (HLA):  Human leukocyte antigens are proteins, often referred to a markers, found on most cells in the body. These markers help the body recognize which cells belong in the body and which cells are foreign, and do not. HLA markers are used to match patients and donors for stem cell transplants. A blood test known as “HLA tissue typing” is used to find suitable matches.   Read more about HLA  here >>

HLA Tissue Typing:  HLA typing matches the markers on the donor’s cells to the recipient’s cells. A close match between the patients HLA markers and the donor’s can reduce the risk that the patient’s immune cells will attack the donor’s cells, or that the donor’s immune cells will attack the patient’s body after the transplant. A well-matched donor is an important factor in the success of a transplant.  Read more about HLA  here >>

Allogeneic transplant:  A transplant where the patient receives the stem cells from a donor, either related (family member) or unrelated (stranger).  Allogeneic transplants require a type of ‘conditioning regimen’, pre-transplant, in order to destroy the unhealthy cells and immune system before introducing new healthy donated cells into the patient’s body. Some common forms of conditioning are chemotherapy and radiation.   Read more about alleogeneic transplants here >>

Autologous transplant: 
‘Auto’, meaning ‘self’ – an autologous transplant uses the patient’s own cord blood stem cells in the transplant.  An autologous transplant also requires a pre-transplant conditioning regimen like an allogeneic transplant. With autologous transplants the cells being used will be a perfect HLA match, because the patient is receiving his/her own cells. This eliminates any chance of rejection. These transplants are more commonly used to treat neuroblastoma and brain cancer. They can also treat acquired disorders, where the problem is not genetic.  Read more about autologous transplants here >>

Autologous re-infusion:  A treatment where the child’s own cord blood stem cells are used to help a repair and re-grow damaged cells.  Since cord blood stem cells have demonstrated regenerative properties and there is no risk of rejection there are clinical trials evaluating if autologous re-infusions can help treat children with Type 1 Diabetes and Cerebral Palsy. Unlike transplants (autologous and alleogenic), re-infusion treatments do not require a conditioning regimen. Read more about autologous re-infusions here >>

Engraftment:  Occurs when the stems cells that were transplanted into the patient’s body move into the spaces inside the bone and begin to create new marrow and build a new healthy blood and immune system. Engraftment is one indication of a successful transplant.  Read more about engraftment here >>

Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD):  A condition that occurs as a result of the donor cells attacking the patient’s body and/or the patient’s immune system rejecting the transplanted cells. Finding as close of a donor-recipient match as possible is important because it reduces the risk of Graft vs. Host Disease. With cord blood stem cells from a family member, the chances of finding a match greatly increase.  Read more about GVHD here >>

The importance of understanding cord blood stem cell terminology

When considering cord blood banking options, we encourage families to set aside a little bit of time to get familiar with common terms and gain the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision. After all, an informed decision is often  the best decision. We understand navigating the cord blood stem cell world on your own can be a little overwhelming. And we know that time is not always a luxury when planning for the arrival of a little one.  That’s why we’re here for you, to answer any questions  – cord blood stem cells are our lives at ViaCord! Do you have a term you want to understand better? Let us know. You may find that others are wondering the same thing.

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