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Another major source of stem cells – menstrual blood

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Stem cells are one of the most fascinating areas of biology today. But like many growing fields of scientific inquiry, research on stem cells raises scientific questions as quickly as it generates new discoveries.

In India, menstruation blood has been considered as dirty and polluting. There have been a lot of myths, taboos and various practices related to menstruation. In olden times, the lady would be made to sit in some corner, wear only particular clothes, use a separate set of vessels for eating and drinking, and she was not allowed to cook. Other members in the family were not to even go near her, let alone touch her!!! At the end of the period, she would ‘cleanse’ herself by taking a hair bath.

Thankfully, while in some of the homes in rural India these restrictions might still be prevalent; in urban homes these rules seem to have lost effect. However, menstrual blood is still today considered sanitary waste. Yet recent findings have revealed menstrual blood to be a rich and easily accessible source of adult stem cells.

LifeCell is the first and the largest private cord blood stem cell bank and stem cell solutions provider in India which facilitates the cryogenic preservation of umbilical cord blood stem cells at its central facility in Chennai, India. They have been doing research on menstrual blood as a source of stem cells. Here is what Dr. Ajit Kumar, Chief Scientific Officer, LifeCell International has to say:

A woman’s role in society and the family is constantly changing. She dons the role of a daughter, sister, wife, mother, an entrepreneur, a working professional, a friend and much more with élan. The master stem cell or the zygote, wherein human life begins, is created when a woman’s egg is fertilized by her partner’s sperm. Shortly thereafter, this master stem cell begins to multiply into hundreds of millions of cells, including a large number of other stem cells, as the embryo develops during the early stages of pregnancy. The less specialized stem cells give rise to more specialized cell types and the process continues throughout pregnancy leading to the formation of all the cell types within the human body such as skin, muscle, nerve, bone, etc. Following birth and throughout adult life, our bodies continue to produce stem cells that serve as a vital source for regeneration and repair throughout our lifetime.

While the concept of stem cells becomes intuitive if one considers the development of complex organisms such as humans from a single cell such as the zygote and also the constant requirements for repair and replenishment of cells, it is only within the last fifty years that stem cells have been recognized for their therapeutic value. It is these therapeutic applications that have become the primary focus of studies by researchers and scientists from around the world. Since the very first bone marrow transplant in the 1950’s, to the 1980’s and ’90’s, when more than 16,000 stem cell transplants were performed to treat leukemia and immune system diseases, research into regenerative cellular therapies for a wide range of human diseases has rapidly advanced. Most recently, medical researchers have discovered adult stem cells in the endometrial lining of the uterus.

Another path breaking discovery in this area is that menstrual blood itself is a rich source of stem cells and serves as a potential source for promising regenerative therapies to treat heart disease, diabetes, neurological disorders like spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, in addition to cosmeceutical applications such as anti-aging therapies, to name a few. In simple terms potentially life-saving stem cells are found naturally in menstrual blood.

The Menstrual stem cell comes from the uterine lining (endometrium), which is shed as part of a woman’s menstrual period. These menstrual stem cells are unique because they have many properties and characteristics similar to both bone marrow and embryonic stem cells.

Until now, menstrual blood has been discarded as unsanitary waste. However, as recent research has shown menstrual fluid contains self-renewing stem cells that can be easily collected, processed and cryo-preserved for potential cellular therapies that may emerge in the future. They multiply rapidly and can differentiate into many other types of cells such as neural, cardiac, bone, fat, cartilage and possibly others; demonstrating great potential for cell therapy. Preliminary research suggests that in addition to possible use by the donor, these stem cells may also be used to benefit other family members who are genetically related to the donor, such as perhaps a parent, sibling or child.

More information on stem cells is available on www.lifecellinternational.com

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Written by sreelakshmi

6 January, 2009 at 7:32 am