COOKEVILLE — The birth of a baby is often a joyous time.
It’s also a time when the baby’s parents can choose to potentially save someone’s life by donating or storing the blood from the baby’s umbilical cord to help treat a range of diseases — both genetic and acquired.
July is cord blood awareness month and Dr. Apryl Hall, pediatrician and hospitalist with Cookeville Regional Medical Center, says that while people are aware of the storing of cord blood, people may not be aware that it can be used to help treat such a range of diseases — even in people unrelated to the child from which the cord blood was drawn.
“It can be used to treat a lot of different things,” Hall said. “It can be (used) for malignant and nonmalignant diseases.”
Cord blood can be used to treat diseases including acute and chronic leukemia, lymphoma, aplastic anemia, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia major — similar to anemia — and other genetic or acquired disorders.
“The nice thing about cord blood versus a bone marrow transplant is that with bone marrow you have something called HLA markers that have to be specific. So, usually, you have to get that (bone marrow) from a family member. With cord blood, you don’t have to be as HLA-specific so you’re able to give it to more different people for many different problems and not be related at all.”
How is cord blood collected?
After the baby is delivered — either by traditional birth or Cesarean section — the umbilical cord is clamped and blood from the cord and placenta is collected into a sterile bag. The average amount collected is between one-third and one-half of a cup and is stored temporarily.
The parents must be 18 or older, only expecting one baby with no fetal abnormalities, free of diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis and West Nile, and the mother, father and any siblings of the baby must never have had any type of cancer or leukemia.
“Before you’re 34 weeks pregnant you’re going to talk to your doctor about all of this,” Hall explained. “You’re going to find out where the banks are. There’s two kinds of banks — a private and a public.”
When cord blood is donated for public use, it is checked to be sure if it has enough blood-forming cells for a transplant, tested to be sure it is free from contamination, is typed and listed on the Be The Match Registry — a listing of potential marrow donors and cord blood units available for patients in need of a transplant. The unit is identified by number, never by name and is then frozen in a liquid nitrogen freezer and stored.
Parents also have the option of storing the cord blood for future private use. Private cord banks require a storage fee for keeping the units stored until they are needed.
One key thing to note is that cord blood banked by families is much more likely to be used by the donors’ siblings than by the donors themselves.
“Because, if it’s your child that has the problem, most likely the stem cells are not going to be beneficial because they’ll have the same genetic abnormalities,” Hall explained. “It will not help.”
Typically, companies in the United States charge families approximately $2,000 for processing the unit and then charges a storage fee of more than $100 per year
Those who wish to publicly donate cord blood are not responsible for a yearly storage fee.
The exact “shelf life” of cord blood isn’t known.
“They initially put it in liquid nitrogen to freeze it and then they put it in these big frozen banks,” Hall said. “It doesn’t seem to hurt it. It seems to do very well.”
Hall says she’s seen firsthand the benefits of cord blood donation during her days of training at a Johnson City hospital that had a sister branch to St. Jude’s Hospital.
“We actually had several people who had bone marrow transplants from stem cells as opposed to just plain bone marrow and they did very well,” Hall said. “Some of the people who genetic abnormalities were completely healed from their problems with a transplant. So, stuff that they were getting chronic therapy for prior; they were able to get rid of their problem all together with their transplant … not every case is going to be a complete cure and sometimes there are still problems but it is a great alternative and there are a lot of great benefits.”
Are people donating?
“I think that there are people banking the blood but they’re not donating the blood,” Hall said.
“I think being aware that you can donate cord blood really needs to be out there more.”
For more information about donating cord blood call the Be the Match registry at 1-800-627-7692.
“Being the match for somebody can mean life or death,” Hall said. “So, knowing that something you’re going to throw away when the baby’s born could save somebody else’s life will make a difference.”