Every minute a hero is born with the potential to save a life. The Oregon Cord Blood Program works to save the lives of thousands of critically ill patients with blood diseases like leukemia and lymphoma who are in urgent need of a life-saving transplant. Umbilical cord blood, which is typically discarded, is rich with the blood-forming cells that can give blood cancer patients hope for a cure. Donating your baby’s cord blood to a public cord blood bank can help patients get the transplants they need.
Earlier this year, a cord blood transplant saved 4-year-old Michael Wilson’s life after he was diagnosed with Krabbe, a potentially fatal degenerative disease. Krabbe, also known as globoid cell leukodystrophy, is a rare genetic disorder caused by the deficiency of a specific enzyme. Most patients with Krabbe disease present with symptoms within the first six months of life, and approximately 10 percent present later in life (including adulthood). Patients with juvenile onset disease like Michael typically present with weakness, loss of skills and vision loss. Late infantile and juvenile patients regress at an unpredictable rate, but all become severely incapacitated and usually die two to seven years after diagnosis.
“It’s amazing that something once considered medical waste [umbilical cord blood] can now be used to save lives,” said Eneida Nemecek, M.D., M.S., M.B.A., project leader of the Oregon Cord Blood Program and director of the OHSU Doernbecher Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program. “Unrelated umbilical cord blood donation may be the only chance for cure for patients who have exhausted all available treatment options and for whom no matched family members or adult unrelated donors are found for transplantation.”
What’s the difference between Cord Blood Donation and Private Storage?
When you donate your baby’s umbilical cord for public use:
- It’s available to any patient in need of a transplant; it’s not reserved for your family members.
- It’s free for donors. The Oregon Cord Blood Program covers the cost of collecting, processing and storing cord blood units. The donor’s name is kept confidential, and the recipient family’s privacy is protected. Names are not shared with any patient or with the transplant center.
- It’s collected under strict quality standards to make sure the cord blood unit is usable for transplant. If standards aren’t met, the cord blood unit may be used for research to improve the transplant process for future patients, or the unit will be discarded.
- If you store the cord blood in a family (private) cord blood bank, it is reserved for your own family members. Family cord blood banks are available throughout the country for anyone. You are charged a fee for the collection and an annual fee to store the umbilical cord blood.
- Cord blood is not a biological insurance plan for your child’s future. For some diseases, the patient’s own cells can be used for transplant. However, many diseases treated with transplant may already be present in the baby’s cord blood. For these diseases, a transplant using cells donated from a relative or an unrelated donor is the best choice.
Is there any risk when donating Cord blood?
- Cord blood donation is completely safe for you and your baby. No blood is taken from your baby. It’s only taken from the umbilical cord itself after your baby is born. Your labor and delivery plan will not be affected. And when you donate your baby’s cord blood to a public cord blood bank, there are no collection or storage costs. Your baby’s cord blood will be listed on Be The Match Registry®, where it’s available for anyone in need of a transplant.
OHSU partners with BloodWorks Northwest to screen and bank collected cord blood units. The Oregon Cord Blood Program is facilitated by coordinator Madeleine Tuson-Turner and a group of nine amazing volunteers to provide this life-saving treatment to those in need.
Interested in becoming a volunteer with the Cord Blood Donation Program? Find out how you can volunteer.
Have questions or interested in donating cord blood? Contact Madeleine Tuson-Turner at the Oregon Cord Blood Program to get started.
About the author: Sean Robertson volunteers as a researcher at OHSU with the Cord Blood Donation Program, the Pediatric Oncology Associate Research Internship program (P.O.L.A.R.I.S.), and as a communications volunteer with the Office of Research and Academic Volunteer Services.