Cord blood can change the future of medicine

July is National Cord Blood Awareness Month, a time dedicated to increasing public knowledge of a simple donation that has the power to change lives and the future of medicine.

Stem cells are a powerful tool for blood and tissue regeneration and can be used to treat cancer, immune system disorders and other devastating diseases. Blood from human umbilical cords contains a small number of adult stem cells that can mature into healthy blood cells. If this blood is collected from the umbilical cord soon after a baby is born, the stem cells can be used for medical therapies.

Who benefits from cord blood donation?

Because of its unique ability to develop healthy adult stem cells, cord blood can benefit many patients whose bodies are not healthy enough to do this on their own. Blood and marrow stem cell transplants may be an option for patients with certain cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma. Patients with certain autoimmune disorders can also be treated with therapies derived from cord blood stem cells.

Studies and clinical trials are ongoing to see how cord blood stem cells can benefit patients with cystic fibrosis, Type I diabetes, sickle cell disease, severe aplastic anemia and myelodysplastic syndromes. Donated cord blood is essential to this research.

How does cord blood donation work?

After a baby is born and the umbilical cord is clamped and cut, blood can be collected from the cord. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, donation poses little risk to donors, and the blood can be stored frozen for years. The blood may be used in research or in developing new medical therapies. It may also be used by a patient whose blood type matches that of the donor.

What is cord blood banking?

Private cord blood banking is available from several companies. Cord blood in banks is not used for research like donated cord blood, but instead is kept specifically for the account holders. There is often a fee for this service. Parents may choose to bank cord blood because of the future opportunities for therapies derived from the stem cells. Cord blood from one child can often be used to the benefit of siblings and other close family members.

How can I donate or bank my baby’s cord blood?

Hospitals and birth centers have different options available for cord blood donation and banking, so be sure to make preparations well ahead of your baby’s due date. Sheri Engel, RN, nurse manager of labor and delivery, says that moms who give birth at Barnes-Jewish Hospital can choose to donate or bank their baby’s cord blood.

“We can help you donate to the St. Louis Cord Blood Bank, which is part of the nationwide Be The Match registry,” Engel says. “It’s easy to do and you don’t have to decide until the day of admission.”

Barnes-Jewish also assists in cord blood collection for private banking, Engel adds, but parents need to make arrangements with the cord blood bank of their choice before being admitted to the hospital for delivery.

“We really encourage parents to consider cord blood donation,” Engel says. “It’s already changed the way we can treat diseases like cancer, and it has the potential to reshape medicine even more in the future. It truly is the gift of life, and it’s very easy to give.”

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Category: Women & Infants

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Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center is the largest hospital in Missouri and the largest private employer in the St. Louis region. An affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has a 1,800 member medical staff with many who are recognized as "Best Doctors in America." They are supported by residents, interns and fellows, in addition to nurses, technicians and other health-care professionals.

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