Type 1 diabetes results from the loss of normal immunological self-tolerance, which may be attributable to the failure of Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs). Umbilical cord blood is rich in Tregs and therefore has the potential to prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes. A pilot trial is currently underway in Australia to examine whether infusion of autologous cord blood can prevent type 1 diabetes in high-risk children with serum antibodies to multiple β-cell antigens.
A number of other potential therapeutic indications for autologous cord blood have been proposed, including cerebral palsy and hypoxic–ischaemic encephalopathy.
Recruitment to clinical trials using cord blood is influenced by divergent public and private cord blood banking policy in Australia. The burgeoning consumer demand for storage of cord blood highlights the need for regulatory bodies to develop and adapt policies to facilitate research that may extend the use of cord blood beyond currently recognised indications.
Consumers, researchers and policymakers must also recognise specific ethical issues associated with collection and storage of cord blood, including storage in public and private banks, informed consent, ownership, access and the principle of beneficence.
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