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Umbilical Cord Blood is a Lifesaver

By Travis Heider, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, September 24, 2007

A friend informed us about the option of donating umbilical cord blood to a public cord blood bank when my wife was pregnant with our second child two years ago. We made the potentially life-saving donation and were thrilled to celebrate our daughter’s birth with the gesture.

As an alternative to bone marrow in stem cell transplants, blood left in the umbilical cord after a birth is a rich source of blood-forming stem cells. Researchers discovered this stem cell source nearly two decades ago. Thousands of people diagnosed with severe immune system or blood disorders and cancer were given new hope by the discovery. Making cord blood a life-saving resource for patients unable to find a compatible bone marrow donor, a stem cell transplant using umbilical cord blood can be successful without a perfect match. An extremely close tissue-type match between patient and donor is required in order for a bone marrow transplant to be possible.

More than 6,000 individuals search the National Marrow Donor Program Registry every day, looking for an unrelated donor or a cord blood unit since 70 percent of patients do not find suitable bone marrow donors within their families. This is according to the National Marrow Donor Program, which maintains the world's largest listing of volunteer bone marrow donors and cord blood units.

Leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and around 70 other conditions are now treated with the formerly discarded cord blood. THE NMDP reports that the number of cord blood transplants facilitated by its registry is increasing. And about 20 percent of patients who find a compatible match through its registry receive cord blood that was donated to a public bank.

There are no risks associated with umbilical cord blood collection and the procedure is simple. The procedure presents no risk to the mother or child and does not affect the birth experience. The placenta and umbilical cord are discarded after birth, and the blood is taken from these materials just prior to being discarded.

If only they had known about the option, parents would have likely donated. Legislation at the county level to promote cord blood donation awareness was proposed last year. The bill was called the Cord Blood Stem Cell Notification Law. To promote awareness about public and private cord blood banking, the state Department of Health is now required to develop a public education and outreach campaign. Governor Eliot Spitzer signed this into legislation on August 1st.

New York is poised to become a leader in cord blood research. Soon to be one of the largest facilities of its kind in the nation, the New York State Cord Blood Science Institute will soon be established after $10 million was provided by the state last fall.

Cord blood donation offers the potential for the discovery of treatments and cures for dozens of life-threatening and debilitating diseases, providing hope to the thousands of patients unable to find a bone marrow donor. All New Yorkers should be aware of this life-saving power with the passing of the new law.


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