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Once Medical Waste, Cord Blood Is Now Saving Lives

When a woman delivers a healthy newborn, it’s a joyful event and all in attendance focus on the mom and baby with little consideration of what happens immediately afterward–cutting the umbilical cord and delivery of the placenta. For centuries the placenta and umbilical cord were discarded, until research proved transplanted hematopoietic, or blood forming, stem cells could cure cancers and diseases. The ITxM cord blood program was born in 1998, serving the Chicago area, and expanded in 2007 to include the western Pennsylvania area.

ITxM established an FDA – and AABB – accredited public umbilical cord blood registry and cord blood kit storage facility in partnership with the National Marrow Donor Program, or NMDP. Working together with medical partners to educate expectant parents in all facets of donation in its service area, the ITxM cord blood program has over 5,000 units in storage as public donations at its cryogenic facility in Rosemont, IL.

Imagine a healthy newborn unknowingly saving someone’s life! Cord blood is rich with immature progenitor blood stem cells that can differentiate into needed cell types in a patient. These cells replace the patient’s diseased cells and can be used in the treatment of more than 80 diseases, such as leukemia, lymphomas, sickle cell anemia and inherited immune system disorders. After a baby is born, they no longer need placental tissues or cord blood and collection does not pose a risk to mother or infant. This Be The Match video explains: The ABCs of Cord Blood Donation.

Because cord blood is an FDA regulated biologic, there are guidelines to follow prior to public donation. Mothers must be at least 18 years old, in general good health, meeting NMDP guidelines and carrying a single pregnancy to a minimum of 34 weeks gestation. Each donation is tested and must meet a total nucleated cells count, or TNC, which is a marker that helps determine the overall quantity and viability of stem cells. Learn more:  

Although a close human leukocyte antigen, or HLA, match is sought for patients needing transplant, NMDP reports that clinical studies using cord blood suggest, “The match may not have to be as close as (those) needed for bone marrow or for peripheral blood (stem cells) transplant.” Seventy percent of patients who need marrow transplants do not have a match in their own family, so cord blood may provide a lifesaving treatment option. Grateful patients and their families

Public cord blood donation has no cost to donors and gives physicians access to thousands of potential matches for patients, while private banking is for individual family use and has fees. Sometimes parents privately store an infant’s cord blood in anticipation of helping an older sibling with a cancer or disease, or if there is a known regenerative disease in a family’s history. However, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, only one in 2,700 people actually use their baby’s privately stored cord blood.

Why throw away something that could potentially save someone’s life? NMDP states that over 14,000 patients are waiting for matches. With over 3 million births annually in the US alone, the potential to help suffering patients by using publically donated umbilical cord and placental tissue is tremendous. It really brings to life the ITxM cord blood program slogan, “Small Package, Great Possibilities.”

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