Eneida Nemecek, MD, MBA
Bone marrow transplant can cure blood cancers and other nonmalignant diseases affecting the blood and immune system. Approximately 10,000 people per year are in need of a bone marrow transplant in the United States. To receive a bone marrow transplant patients need to have a suitable donor, but for many patients these donors do not exist. This is particularly true for people of ethnic minorities (non-White) where the chances of finding a donor match are significantly smaller. Umbilical cord blood is a valuable source of blood progenitor cells for those who lack a bone marrow donor among relatives or unrelated adult volunteers. Approximately 1,200 patients per year receive a cord blood transplant in the U.S., and this number could be much bigger if more cord blood units were available.
Cord blood cells can be collected at the time of delivery without any additional risk to the newborn or the mother. There are public and private cord blood banks. Private banking of cord blood is expensive and currently not recommended for persons without a known close relative with a disease that can be treated with cord blood transplant. On the other hand, cord blood units donated for public use are collected free of cost and stored in the national inventory of Be The Match Registry operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, where they are made available to any patient in need of a bone marrow transplant. Units not suitable for clinical use can be used to study the biology and potential uses cord blood.
The Oregon Cord Blood Program was established in 2009 and it is the only program in the state that allows expecting parents to donate their baby’s cord blood free of cost to be included in the national public registry. The objectives of the program are:
- To facilitate collection of cord units for storage in the national public cord blood bank.
- Our goal is to increase the number and ethnic diversity of cord blood units in the national inventory. We want to offer this opportunity in many hospitals in Oregon and serve as an example for other cord blood programs in the country.
- To increase community awareness about cord blood donation.
- Our goal is to educate the community including expecting parents, physicians and other health providers about the importance of cord blood donation for public use.
- To expand and promote cord blood research.
- Our goal is to make cord blood units available to investigators studying potential therapies with cord blood cells and methods to improve transplant outcomes.
Although the government helps fund some of the costs of public cord blood banking, philanthropic contributions are necessary to support the collection process and education efforts to make public cord banking available to all. Any contribution, big or small, will be useful to achieve these goals!
Why is this important?
Cord blood units stored in public blood banks have been used to treat thousands of patients worldwide. As the number of cord blood transplants increases there is a higher need to expand the number of available donors and to study methods to improve the collection and storage of cord blood as well as the potential future uses of cord blood progenitor cells.
Who will benefit?
Cord blood is used as a cell source to treat adults and children undergoing bone marrow transplant for blood cancers such as leukemia, nonmalignant blood disorders, inherited disorders of the immune system and some genetic disorders of metabolism.
These are several examples of patients in Oregon who have benefitted from public cord blood donors: