Did you know you can donate your placenta to science?

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The placenta is a rich source of stem cells, which can turn into any cell needed by the body.
The placenta is a rich source of stem cells, which can turn into any cell needed by the body.

The placenta is an incredible organ. It sustains a baby for the entire pregnancy – sometimes even two babies in the case of twins – and is then generally unceremoniously discarded as ‘medical waste’ after the baby is born.

In Western cultures, the placenta is usually incinerated, but in some cultures rituals regarding its disposal are followed.

The trend of placentophagy has been on the rise lately: when the placenta is consumed by the mother following the birth.

Apparently, it may be eaten raw, cooked, dehydrated and put into smoothies or encapsulated it in pill form.

Anecdotally, it increases the production of breast milk, eases postpartum stress, decreases the likelihood of postnatal depression and stimulates the shrinking of the uterus.

If that's not for you, and you're not planning to bank your baby's cord blood, there is another option for you: donating your placenta to be used in a range of medical treatments. 

Kim Hulett, founder and CEO of Next Biosciences, chatted to us about how the placenta is a ‘medical wonder’, and not medical waste.

Because the placenta is a rich source of stem cells, which can turn into any cell needed by the body, it is invaluable to scientists and medical practitioners as these cells can be used in any number of medical products to treat a variety of ailments.

Some of the products that human placentas can contribute towards include:

-        Wound care products

-        Cord blood serum drops

-        Skin rejuvenation products

-        Cancer immunotherapy treatments

-        Anti-aging products and treatments

One placenta also provides thousands of doses, so just one donated organ can go a long way.

Peter Diamandis, co-founder of US-based cell therapeutics company Celularity, recently raised $250 million in seed capital for 'transformative therapies derived from the placenta for treatment of complex medical conditions including hematological and solid tumors, autoimmune disease, diabetes, as well as degenerative effects of ageing."  

No longer science fiction

He’s been reported as saying that ‘placenta-derived allogeneic cell therapy products’ are no longer the stuff of science fiction, but instead the “practical promise of modern applications of regenerative medicine”, and that these therapies could add 10 to 30 extra years to human lives.

This means that your donated placenta could be used to develop products that heal burn victims, improve eye diseases or treat cancers.

It also means it could be used in expensive aesthetic treatments used to make someone look younger for longer.

Only donated, never sold

This raises concerns for some mothers, who wonder if they should then be compensated for their placenta.

In South Africa, it is illegal to exchange money for human organs and tissue. Even unwanted breast milk, an incredibly valuable resource, can only be donated and never bought or sold.

Also read: “Too many mothers are throwing away life-saving breastmilk”

However it is used though, your donated placenta will improve someone’s life in some way, and will help to advance medical science in South Africa, so if you would like to consider donating your placenta, speak to your gynaecologist.  

Kim Hulett will be speaking at the next SingularityU South Africa summit in Johannesburg on 16 & 17 October 2019. Tickets are available from singularityusouthafrica.org.

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Read more:

The future of human reproduction: Three-parent babies 

Pregnant mom shocked at news of triplets

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