For what can umbilical cord blood be used?
Umbilical cord blood is extremely valuable because the blood is rich with stem cells. Stem cells are the basic building blocks of physiological tissue, and stem cells are ideal for use in research and in disease treatment because the cells have not yet differentiated into specific types of tissue. Through normal development, stem cells will become every type of tissue in the human body. They can also be transformed into specific types of tissue (for example, neurological or cardiovascular tissue) in a laboratory.
Umbilical cord blood provides a non-controversial option to embryonic stem cell research (which, when extracted from a human embryo, kills that human life). Stem cells can be culled from the umbilical cord blood and then cultivated to treat medical ailments. Unlike embryonic stem cells, umbilical cord blood cells have already been used successfully to treat such ailments as leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, immune system disorders, and many more. In one case, umbilical cord blood stem cells were used to cure three boys with defective immune systems. (Even though taken from umbilical cord blood, these stem cells are considered adult stem cells; the term “adult” refers to the age of the cell, rather than the source.)
Aside from the advances seen already, doctors are also hopeful about the continued future success with adult stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood. They hope to one day treat Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, and strokes. Umbilical cord blood research is a way to work toward the medical advances promised—but not delivered—by embryonic stem cell research advocates. Cord blood research is a morally responsible alternative that does not rely on the death of humans.
How is cord blood collected?
Cord blood is collected through a simple procedure that takes less than five minutes. The collection can be performed after either a vaginal or cesarean delivery and even for multiple births. The company that stores the cord blood will provide the delivering doctor with either a syringe or bag collection kit. Once the baby is born and the cord has been clamped and cut, the blood is drawn or drained from the umbilical cord before the cord is discarded. The doctor does not alter the normal birthing procedures for cord blood collection, and the procedure will not cause any pain to the mother or the baby.
Stem Cell Therapeutic & Research Act
On December 20, 2005, President Bush signed the Stem Cell Therapeutic & Research Act, which allocates $79 million to obtain 150,000 more units of cord blood. Cord blood collection will be combined with the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry to create the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program—a single source through which doctors can locate appropriate matches for treatment. The act will also promote public awareness of donation and seek to collect units from different ethnic groups so that more patients will find a match.
How can expectant parents donate their baby’s cord blood?
Unfortunately, there are still many states that do not offer donation facilities. Only some facilities, such as Cryobanks International in Florida (800-869-8608), will allow potential donors to donate cord blood from other states. Texas has two donation facilities: one in Houston and one in San Antonio. In Houston, M.D. Anderson has started a program with Women’s Hospital of Houston. For more information about donating at Women’s Hospital, call (713) 563-8000. In San Antonio, the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center currently accepts donations from San Antonio hospitals. They also will begin collecting from other hospitals across Texas very shortly. For more information from the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, call (800) 292-5534 (option 8). To find out which other states provide donation facilities, see www.CordBlood.org.
Also, American Academy of Blood Banks currently works with hospitals in Georgia. Pending current Georgia legislation (Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Initiative), however, they hope to soon accept donations from hospitals across the U.S. The Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Initiative would require doctors and midwives to inform parents of the option to donate their baby’s cord blood. Once these units are donated, they are then made available to transplant centers through international registries. This cord blood can be used to treat diseases and hopefully eliminate the desire to use embryonic stem cells.