Donating umbilical cord blood could save a child’s life

July 30, 2019

July is National Cord Blood Awareness Month, and many parents are not aware of the option to donate and the benefits that public donation can bring. Cord blood is the term used for the blood collected from the umbilical cord and placenta after birth when a healthy baby is born. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) asked clinical cell therapy expert Fabio Triolo, DdR, PhD, to share about the benefits of donating cord blood, and what steps to take to do it. Triolo is an associate professor with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and the director of UTHealth’s Cellular Therapy Core laboratories.

1. For expecting moms, why should they consider donating cord blood? What is it used for? Cord blood could save a child’s life. It contains stem cells that can be used in the treatment of the thousands of critically ill patients with blood diseases like leukemia and lymphoma, who are in urgent need of a life-saving transplant. Unfortunately, not every patient can find a potential donor match. Therefore, cord blood banks worldwide are calling on pregnant women to donate their cord blood after the birth of their child, so that it may be made available to any compatible patient in need of a transplant.

2. What diseases can be treated with cord blood? Cord blood is currently approved for use in “hematopoietic stem cell transplantation” procedures, which are done in patients with disorders affecting the hematopoietic (blood forming) system. Cord blood contains blood-forming stem cells that can be used in the treatment of patients with blood cancers such as leukemias and lymphomas, as well as certain disorders of the blood and immune systems, such as sickle cell disease and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome. That said, several other types of investigational cord blood-based therapies are being tested in clinical trials. For example, at UTHealth we recently completed a trial in which pediatric patients with cerebral palsy were treated with their own cord blood stem cells. We are currently investigating if this treatment could also preserve brain function in infants with congenital diaphragm disease.

3. What happens to the cord blood if it is donated publicly? If you choose to donate the cord blood to a public bank, it will be processed; checked for volume and cell number; tested to be sure it is free from infection, genetic, and/or blood and metabolic disorders; tissue typed; cryopreserved; and listed in a registry where it’s available for anyone in need of a transplant. Cord blood units that do not meet criteria for transplant are designated for research or discarded. Nationally, less than half of collected cord blood units are deemed bankable for transplant, typically because of inadequate volume and cell number.

4. What are some reasons someone wouldn’t want to donate cord blood? Not all women who deliver are eligible to donate the cord blood. For example, if you’ve ever had any type of cancer or leukemia (including skin cancers), you will not be able to donate. If you received an organ or tissue transplant within the last 12 months, you are not eligible to donate cord blood. Also, if you deliver twins, each umbilical cord has different tissue types and it’s possible the two cord blood units could be mixed up during collection, so you will not be eligible to donate.

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