Carolinas Medical Center-University recently became the second hospital in the Charlotte area to be certified as a participant in a free, public umbilical cord blood donation program.
“(This program) allows new moms to donate their baby’s blood for free to anyone in need of a transplant from stem cells,” said Deirdra Taylor, coordinator of the Public Cord Blood Program at CMC-NorthEast and CMC-University.
Cord blood is growing in prominence as an alternative and addition to bone marrow transplants. As a rich source of stem cells, it can be used to replenish a patient’s blood cells and help them recover from a host of diseases.
Dr. Gordon Lam, medical director of the Northern Region Research Center of Carolinas HealthCare System, said there are several advantages to using cord blood as opposed to bone marrow.
“Since (cord blood cells) are less mature than bone marrow cells, the body is less likely to reject them,” said Lam.
“The use of umbilical cord blood is more ethical,” he said, “than taking cells from embryos.”
Cord blood would otherwise be discarded after the baby is delivered. The program allows this resource to be recycled instead.
Cells from cord blood can be used to treat more than 60 malignant and genetic diseases, such as leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia. And research is ongoing for its use in other conditions as well.
“The potential is wide open,” said Lam. “We’re hopeful that (cord blood) can be used for other diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, heart failure and stroke.”
In 2012, CMC-NorthEast became the first hospital in the region to be certified by the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, which is housed and affiliated with Duke Medical Center. CMC-University came on board in December, sending its first successfully collected unit of blood to the blood bank on Dec. 23.
Specially trained physicians and staff at both hospitals collect cord blood samples from participating mothers either in-utero or after the placenta has been delivered. Either way, the process is pain-free for both mother and child.
There are some criteria that mothers have to meet, such as being at least 18 years old, being free of sexually transmitted diseases and carrying only a single baby as opposed to multiples. Mothers who want to donate are also required to sign a consent form, fill out a medical history questionnaire and submit a blood sample to go along with the baby’s sample.
To date, CMC has collected more 500 units of cord blood between the two facilities, and plans to expand the service to other hospitals in the system.
“With CHS being the second largest public health system in the country, we could potentially become the largest source of free umbilical cord blood,” said Lam. “The impact to (both) science and patients could be unprecedented.”
Jennifer Baxter is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jennifer? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.