WORCESTER, Mass. — UMass Memorial Medical Center has established an umbilical cord blood donation program with Cryobanks International Inc. (CII), a pioneer in the field of cord blood processing and storage, based in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Through the program, cord blood — which is rich in stem cells and is used to treat more than 70 diseases — can be stored for personal use or donated through a nationwide matching program to ill patients undergoing treatment.
Mary Herlihy, M.D., chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at UMass Memorial Medical Center, spearheaded the hospital’s efforts to launch the program with CII. Working with the physicians, labor and delivery nursing staff and residents in the Women’s Center, UMass Memorial has involved its entire obstetrics unit in the effort. More than 4,000 infants are born each year at the hospital’s Maternity Center, located at the Memorial Campus.
“I am very excited that UMass Memorial is taking a leadership role in this important service. I believe we are the only hospital in the state offering a donation program to our patients,” said Herlihy. “Donating cord blood is an option that many mothers are not aware of and that is often not easily available, so the current practice, unfortunately, is to discard this valuable resource at birth. We are thrilled to be able to implement the program and anticipate cord blood donation becoming common practice.”
Umbilical cord blood is rich in important blood-producing stem cells that have been used to treat more than 70 diseases and illnesses. These stem cells are immunologically immature, resulting in fewer complications to recipient patients when used for treatments which bone marrow stem cells have traditionally been used for, such as acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).
Herlihy added, “There’s a very broad range of illnesses and diseases that umbilical cord blood has been used to treat. What a great story for a mother to be able to share with her child later on in life — a story of giving.” Several of Dr. Herlihy’s patients have already donated their babies’ cord blood.
Dwight Brunoehler, CEO and founder of CII, said, “We know that the general public would like to be better informed about their umbilical cord blood options, and donation in particular. By partnering with UMass Memorial we will be able to help provide the information they are seeking.” CII is the only National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) accredited cord blood bank that offers a national collection model for donated cord blood units.
Units that qualify are listed on several international registries including the NMDP Cord Blood Registry, where they will be part of the 2006 National Cord Blood Inventory initiative. The object of this national legislation is to help ensure that there is a potential stem cell match for every person who may need one. Today minority groups are significantly underrepresented in the donor registries by as much as 62 percent, making it difficult for these groups to find an acceptable match.
To address this urgent issue, the NMDP has enlisted CII in a specific donor drive focusing on collecting cord blood units from the African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American communities. This immediate drive lasts through March 31, although the effort will be ongoing until the available supply supports the need.
Cord blood donation, which has been in practice since the early 1990s, is a simple, risk-free and painless procedure for both mother and child. CII provides UMass Memorial with collection kits, and a local coordinator visits the hospital daily to manage the pick up and delivery of units. Mothers-to-be who are interested in donating their cord blood should enroll no later than the 34th week of their pregnancy. They can arrange for donation through their physician, through the Women’s Center at UMass Memorial, or with the CII local Worcester donor coordinator at (508) 854-8282. They can also find more information on the CII Web site, www.cryo-intl.com.