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Duke Medicine: The value of saving umbilical cord blood

Posted July 22, 2013

Umbilical cord blood is a baby’s blood left in the placenta after the baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut.

Historically, umbilical cord blood was discarded with the placenta as medical waste. Over the past few decades, cord blood has been shown to contain stem cells and early precursor cells that can be used for life-saving stem cell transplantation for children and adults in need of a stem cell transplant.

Jessica M. Sun, MD, a pediatric blood and marrow transplant specialist at Duke Children's, explains why you might want to save your child's umbilical cord blood.

How is umbilical cord blood used in medicine?

Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation can be an effective therapy for pediatric and adult patients with certain cancers, immune deficiencies, bone marrow failure syndromes, and some genetic diseases including inborn errors of metabolism and hemoglobinopathies.

Traditionally, stem cells used for transplantation were obtained from bone marrow or blood. More recently, cord blood has become an alternative source of stem cells for transplantation.

A major limitation to stem cell transplantation therapy is the ability to find a suitable donor. Only 20 to 25 percent of patients in need of a transplant have relative who is a “match” and can serve as their donor. Of those without a related donor, only 10 to 50 percent of patients (depending on their race and ethnicity) will find a matched unrelated bone marrow donor through the National Marrow Donor Program and other donor registries.

Cord blood transplantation does not require as strict matching as bone marrow, so many patients who cannot find a matched bone marrow donor can find a suitable cord blood donor. It is estimated that more than 4,000 cord blood transplants are being performed each year around the world.

Cord blood is also being studied as a source of stem cells for other purposes, including regenerative therapies for tissues damaged by injury or disease. However, these applications remain unproven and are currently the subject of ongoing research.

For more about saving umbilical cord blood, read the full post at Duke Medicine, Go Ask Mom's sponsor, offers health tips and information every Tuesday.


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