Beginning in the late 1980s, an increasing number of hospitals have offered parents the chance to save their babies' umbilical cord blood after birth because of the high amount of stem cells within it. Stem cells, in theory, can help fix damaged tissue or possibly even stop diseases from taking hold.
While blood storage is becoming increasingly common, there are still very few cases of the cord blood actually being used for good. A study completed last year showed that less than twenty successful treatments had been performed in the US However, with increases in science and medicine, we are beginning to see cord blood used in new and exciting ways.
For example, this week in Australia, young Isla Robinson made history by being the first person infected with her own umbilical cord blood in an effort to delay – or hopefully indefinitely prevent – juvenile type-1 diabetes. The theory is that her blood, which is rich in immune cells, will help her immune system to reboot itself and stop attacking its own insulin-producing cells.
As we continue to see advances like this, we will likely see increased adoption of this type of medical information storage. Unfortunately, the costs of blood storage (which can range into the thousands of dollars) make it too expensive for many. Fortunately, there is another great biomedical storage technology that is much, much less expensive. DNA sequencing, or mapping out every single gene in your genetic code, is getting cheap; what cost thousands upon thousands of dollars before before soon be in the hundreds. The accuracy of DNA sequencing is also more precise than before because computer technology is getting both cheaper and faster too. Everyday people like you and me can start saving our DNA samples so that we are prepared for future improvements in medicine.
Companies now give people the chance to store their DNA for as little as $ 2 a month in safe, secure locations. DNA storage makes sure that a complete copy of your code is protected at all times. Since recent studies have shown as much as 90 percent of cancers are caused by genetic mutations, having an early (un-mutated) sample on hand could prove to be a lifesaver – literally. The technology is not here today, but as we're seeing with cord blood, it's only a matter of time before medical research catches up.
Continued technological advances both in genetics research and medicine will only cut down the time for this groundbreaking shift in healthcare to happen.