UC Davis Set to Launch California’s First Public Umbilical Cord Blood Bank

I recently attended a lecture presented by Dr. Suzanne Pontow, Co-Director of the California Umbilical Cord Blood Collection Program at the University of California (UC) Davis Health System and a Stem Cell Research Program Supervisor at the Institute for Regenerative Cures. The lecture titled “Neonatal Stem Cells: A Window to Perinatal Health and Resource for Regenerative Medicine” discussed research and clinical applications for neonatal stem cells and the California Umbilical Cord Blood Public Bank set for launch in Mid-2012. I broke the talk into a two-blog series, the first blog titled “Neonatal Stem Cells for Research and Clinical Applications,” and today’s blog where I will discuss California’s Umbilical Cord Blood Public Bank.

Umbilical cord blood collection is particularly important for California, Dr. Pontow explained due to its rich ethnic diversity. California is one of the most multi-race diverse states in the nation. This diversity makes it more difficult for Californians to find a match with the rest of the banks in the United States. By collecting the umbilical cords of California’s newborns, a very ethnically diverse group of donor cells could be created that would save many lives. UC Davis Health System will administer the new bank and also operate one of the collection centers. The public bank is the result of California Assembly Bill 52 signed into law in 2010, which created the bank and implemented a $2 fee on all birth certificates in California to fund the program. The fee is set to run through 2017 and will provide the bank about $2 million dollars per year in funding, after this the bank will need to be self-supporting.

Parents of newborns have three choices when it comes to handling their babies’ umbilical cord. They can donate it to a public bank, save the cord blood for their family by banking it with a private bank or do nothing and the umbilical cord is treated as medical waste. When states do not have a public bank, public donation is difficult. Another option, private banking is costly, with an initial charge of around $2,000 and annual storage fees. So in California many umbilical cords were not being banked and as a result many potentially life saving cells were lost. The hope is that California’s public bank will change this and encourage more parents to donate their child’s umbilical cord. Donation is free to donors and also to recipients of the banked cells. The cord blood collected would be listed on the national bone marrow and cord blood registry searchable database called “Be the Match.”

So why is cord blood so important? Cord blood offers treatment to diseases like childhood leukemia, traditionally treated with bone marrow, but now being treated with cord blood as well. Cord blood provides a great alternative to bone marrow because it has a faster time to transplantation, it is easier to obtain and does not require a perfect donor match.

Advantages of Cord Blood

  • Shorter time from donor match to transplantation – Frozen cord blood cells can be shipped immediately. With bone marrow donation, the donor has to be contacted, permission has to be given, and testing and collection has to be conducted before cells are available for transplant.
  • Cord blood is easy and painless to obtain – Bone marrow collection on the other hand can be painful for the donor and a potential donor has to be tested with their information on the registry to be selected as a match. Unfortunately many people may be matches and don’t realize it.
  • Cord blood is easier to match donor and patient due to reduced immunogenicity in cells coming from a newborn – HLA matching is the method used when determining a match for transplant. The process, used with both bone marrow and cord blood matching, looks at 6 proteins in the blood. Bone marrow requires 5 of 6 proteins to match to be a donor, but in cord blood only 4 of 6 proteins have to match. It is estimated that around 25% of people needing a bone marrow match will not find it and cord blood donations could help reduce this percentage significantly.

Another reason cord blood is important is its potential in treating other diseases and injuries. Cord blood is currently being tested in clinical trials to treat cerebral palsy, type 1 diabetes, traumatic brain injury, infant hearing loss, and many other diseases. Cord blood cells have the ability to sense damage and go to repair it within 48 hours. One of the challenges that has been discussed with using cord blood for stem cell therapies is the difficulty in obtaining a sufficient quantity of stem cells for treatment. Please see our blog titled “Exciting Treatment Possibilities with Stem Cells; What is The Best Cell Culture Method” for more information.

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