Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Stem-Cell Research : Cord Blood Is "the Future of Medicine"

Copyright Savannah Morning News Apr 19, 2006



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Expectant parents at Memorial Health University Medical Center have been slow to publicly donate their newborns' umbilical cord blood.

Non-embryonic stem cells from cord blood have helped bring about treatments for anemia, leukemia, lymphoma, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, sickle cell disease, spinal cord injury and Crohn's disease.

Less than 10 such public bank donations have been made since the hospital's cord-blood donation program began in early 2005. Memorial had 2,847 births that year. Most of those umbilical cords were discarded.

Reasons for the lack of donations are varied and may include a lack of education. Too often, the public incorrectly associates cord-blood stem cells with controversial embryonic stem cells, said Christina Ulm, community outreach coordinator for the Women's Health Institute at Memorial.

Of the few cord-blood donations so far, most were by parents in the medical profession, Ulm said, despite promoting the program through childbirth classes, brochures, specific trainings and OB-GYN doctors and nurses.

"All our labor and delivery nurses attended training on collecting cord blood," Ulm said. "We were expecting to do massive cord-blood donations, but that never happened."

The program goal is to address the question of what parents want to do with the cord blood long before the mother delivers.

"Every mother should be asked whether she wants to donate her child's cord blood," said Brenda Anderson of Isle of Hope. She credits a double cord-blood transplant for saving her son, Matt, 23. "Why throw it away? It saves lives. What mother wouldn't do that?"

The hope is cord-blood donations will increase now that Gov. Sonny Perdue is pushing for a network of umbilical cord-blood banks in Georgia. Last week, Perdue signed an executive order to create a 15-member commission charged with establishing postnatal tissue and fluid banks.

The commission would work with universities, hospitals and other organizations to help pregnant women receive information on how to donate their infants' cord blood.
Faith-based St. Joseph's/Candler offers childbirth classes that include information on cord-blood donation and allows patients to bring in collection kits and have the cord blood collected.

The hospital system, however, has no separate educational program to specifically promote public cord-blood donations, said Carla Swords, clinical initiatives manager for Women & Children's Services at St. Joseph's/Candler.

That isn't related to the hospital system's Catholic affiliation, Swords said, because cord-blood stem cells are not the same as embryonic stem cells.

Some religions, including Catholicism, oppose embryonic stem-cell research.
Swords said Candler's services pertaining to cord-blood donations could expand depending on patients' needs.

"This is something that we will continue to look at with the topic growing and Perdue's actions," Swords said. "We want to provide the most updated process for our patients."

Other possible reasons for lack of donations at Memorial: people don't realize public cord-blood donations differ from private cord banks, where parents pay to store their child's cord blood in case a family member needs it, Ulm said.

Private banking requires a steep fee, in the range of $1,200-$2,000 for initial storage and processing, plus additional annual costs.

Public banks are free and done for altruistic reasons. They cannot guarantee that donated cord blood will be available to the donor's family, but the donation could help families like the Andersons.

Their son had the transplant in October 2004 at Fairview-University Medical Center in Minnesota to halt the progression of a genetic disorder, adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), spotlighted in the 1992 movie "Lorenzo's Oil." It's characterized by the breakdown of the fatty insulation surrounding nerve cells in the brain and the deterioration of the adrenal gland.

Matt Anderson is back at his parents' home, undergoing physical therapy to regain physical and cognitive skills. Although the double transplant effectively stopped his body from attacking his brain, the cerebral ALD had already destroyed nerves in his brain.

One advantage of a cord-blood transplant over a bone marrow transplant is immediacy. Had the Andersons had to wait for a perfect match from an adult "he would have been gone before then," his mother said.

With cord blood, it doesn't have to be an exact match. After determining Matt's sister wasn't a match for a bone marrow transplant, it took two days to find a cord-blood match.

"I can't believe we aren't progressive enough to have a cord-blood donation program in every hospital that delivers babies," Brenda Anderson said. "Cord-blood donation has nothing to do with anything controversial."

Think of cord-blood donation as a "baby Red Cross" said Atlanta OB/GYN Dr. Gerry Sotomayor, founder of Babies for Life Foundation which facilitates umbilical cord donations.

"We are trying to imitate what the Red Cross has done, but with umbilical cord donations," Sotomayor said.

He said the media contributes to lack of awareness about cord-blood donations by incorrectly concentrating more on embryos as a main source for stem cells. But, he said, one cord-blood donation produces significantly more stem cells than an embryo.
Sotomayor, who is Catholic, said hospitals and expectant parents need to understand cord-blood donations are "an ethical collection of stem cells."

"You mention the words 'stem cells' and people think embryonic," said Sotomayor. "We have to retrace this and educate people on the merits of umbilical cord donations. It is the future of medicine."


If you plan to deliver your child at a hospital that does not offer a public cord-blood donation program, you can donate for free by contacting a non-profit such as Babies for Life Foundation at (770) 512-7085 that offers a streamlined process to make cord-blood donation easy. Visit www.babiesforlife.org.


Memorial Health University Medical Center asks pregnant women what they want to do with the post-natal tissues that are rich in stem cells, but normally discarded: the placenta and its membranes, amniotic fluid, umbilical cord and umbilical cord blood. Options include having it used for public donation or research.

How it works:

- You contact LifebankUSA, a division of Celgene Cellular Therapeutics, for a qualifying questionnaire.

- Fill it out and send it to determine eligibility based on medical history.

- Ideally, you should be enrolled at least four weeks prior to your due date.

- The collection kit will be sent to you. You bring the kit to the hospital.

- After your baby is born and is stable, medical staff do the collection. Your and the baby's health are not compromised to ensure the collection is done.

- The kit is labeled, packaged and mailed to the cord bank.

- The cord blood can be stored for public donation or used for research for free; or stored for your particular family's possible use for a substantial fee.

- The collection process is the same whether donating or privately banking.

- Even C-section patients can donate their newborn's cord blood.

Credit: BY ANNE HART, (912)652-0374, anne.hart@savannahnow.com

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