Families' altruistic cord blood donations can save lives around the world
PALO ALTO, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- A new public cord blood collection program at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, the first of its kind in Northern California, is now enabling new parents to donate their baby's cord blood to an international stem cell transplant registry. Stem cell transplants cure leukemia, lymphoma and inherited blood diseases by replacing a patient's blood-forming cells with those from a healthy donor.
"This is a public service project to expand the donor pool," said Rajni Agarwal, MD, the clinical director for pediatric stem cell transplantation at Packard Children's and medical director of the new collection program. "It will help physicians do more stem cell transplants and save more lives." The new program makes Packard Children's the first Northern California hospital to both collect cord blood donations and use them in stem cell transplants.
The Value of Cord Blood
Blood left in the umbilical cord and placenta after delivery is a rich source of stem cells, Agarwal explained. Right now, nearly all cord blood is discarded as medical waste, while patients who need transplants sometimes die for lack of a donor. But with the right system in place, cord blood can be collected at no risk to a new mother and baby, and given to unrelated patients who need the stem cells. This public system is distinct from private cord blood banks, which charge families fees to collect cord blood and store it for their own possible use.
"The chance of needing banked cord blood for your own child is very remote," said Maurice Druzin, MD, division chief of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Packard Children's. Because blood cancers are so rare, very few families who privately bank cord blood use the cells, Druzin explained. "But these cells are potentially lifesaving for someone else."
Cord blood has important advantages over bone marrow—the most commonly used source of stem cells for transplant. It can be collected non-invasively at birth, and matched to more potential recipients than bone marrow. Additionally, while bone marrow registries have relatively few donors from ethnic minority groups, Packard Children's obstetric patients reflect the great diversity of the Bay Area's population, which means the hospital's donations could greatly diversify the cells available for transplant, helping more minorities find a match.
The Collection Program
The Packard Children's program began because an expectant mother, Stanford professor of law Amalia Kessler, was surprised that she could not find any Bay Area hospitals collecting cord blood donations. During her first pregnancy in 2009, Kessler and her husband, Adam Talcott, decided they would rather donate their baby's cord blood than bank it privately.
"We were bombarded with mailings and calls from private cord blood companies," Kessler said. "We wanted to do something that would be more valuable."
Kessler asked a colleague, Hank Greely, who is a professor of law and of genetics at Stanford, to propose the idea of a cord blood donation program. Greely worked with bone marrow transplant expert Karl Blume, MD, an emeritus professor at the School of Medicine, to get the idea off the ground. Although the program wasn't ready in time for Stella Talcott's 2009 birth, that changed by the time Stella's little brother, Ari, arrived in the fall of 2011. His cord blood became the first donated at Packard Children's.
Packard Children's new public cord blood program is a joint effort with MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which already has an established cord blood bank. Start-up funds have been provided by Packard Children's and a grant from the Joanne Pang Foundation, a San Francisco charity founded in memory of a child who died waiting for a stem cell donor. The charity is also funding a new public cord blood collection system across the state, in which expectant mothers can obtain a cord blood collection kit while pregnant to take to the hospital when they deliver. However, Packard Children's is currently the only hospital in Northern California with an in-house collection system that can enroll any eligible donor mother when she comes to the hospital in active labor.
How does it work? A technologist at Packard Children’s obtains consent from mothers in labor and collects the cord blood. It is then stored and shipped to Texas, where the MD Anderson staff screen the samples for infectious diseases and carry out genetic characterization. The samples collected at Packard Children's are then entered into the international cord blood registry, becoming available to caregivers with patients in need anywhere in the world.
"We really want to encourage all our expectant mothers to consider making this altruistic donation," Agarwal said, adding that her long-term goal is to collect donated cord blood from half of the 5,000 women delivering at Packard Children's each year. Some patients, including those with infectious diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis C, are not eligible to give cord blood, but most can donate.
Meanwhile, Agarwal is seeing first-hand the benefits of using cord blood for Packard Children's hematology-oncology patients who need stem cell transplants.
"In the past year, we've done 10 cord blood transplants," she said. "And this is just the beginning."
She has transplanted children with leukemia; thalassemia, an inherited form of anemia; Hurler syndrome, an inherited enzyme deficiency; and the autoimmune disease histiocytosis.
Agarwal is excited that Packard Children's is coming full circle by collecting cord blood donations as well as using them. "Using cord blood for stem cell transplant is the biggest advance in this field in the past 20 years," she concluded. "Establishing our new cord blood collection program is a very big deal."
KEYWORDS: United States North America California
INDUSTRY KEYWORDS: Stem Cells Health Biotechnology Genetics Hospitals Philanthropy Foundation