To bank or not to bank your newborn’s cord blood? It’s a decision most parents-to-be consider, weighing the cost (up to $3,000 just for the initial fees) against the potential future benefits—those stem cells could help treat certain genetic diseases and cancers that your child may get.
And now a new discovery should give expectant moms and dads something else to consider. Researchers from Stanford University have found that a protein in cord blood could one day combat age-related illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Researchers injected cord blood into mice that were roughly the equivalent of 70 human years old, The Los Angeles Times reports. The injections “woke up a host of dormant genes in the brain” and “increased the flagging snap, crackle and pop of synapses in the hippocampus—a brain region that's crucial to memory,” writes science and health reporter Melissa Healy. Mice who received the cord blood also performed better on tasks like maze-running, which involve spatial memory.
“They don’t function like a young mouse,” said lead study author Tony Wyss-Coray, “but they maybe get halfway in that direction.”
So what does this mean for people? Alzheimer’s patients often struggle with spatial memory early on in their diagnosis, and the hippocampus is known to be affected by age-related diseases.
Still, Wyss-Coray notes that the research is preliminary and doesn’t yet prove that cord blood is effective at treating human brains. But he says it’s "an important step in the right direction" that someday, it could—and it might be worth banking that cord blood now while advances are being made before you'll need it.