Health Team

Womack Army Medical Center takes part in cord blood donation program

Posted August 31, 2009 6:40 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2009 7:00 p.m. EDT

— Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg is joining a new life-saving treatment for people with leukemia and other blood diseases, which involves blood from an umbilical cord.

After a baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta are typically thrown away. Cord blood donor hospitals can carefully collect the stem cell rich blood to help people with blood diseases.

Earlier this month, Womack Army Medical Center joined the state's network of six other donor hospitals that supply the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank at Duke University Hospital with umbilical cord blood.

“Cord blood is essentially an inexhaustible supply of stem cells, and these stem cells can turn into specialist cells that can replace diseased bone marrow, or other organ parts in patients that have certain diseases like for instance, leukemia,” said Dr. Y. Sammy Choi, with Womack Army Medical Center.

Every year, around 3,000 babies are born at Womack. The babies are ethnically diverse and that is partial why the hospital's donor supply is so valuable.

“When we look at matching, we look at several factors … such a looking at the proteins that we have on our cells … and then also match the race. We will then have a better outcome with that transplant,” said Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, director of Duke University Hospital's pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program.

Because donor units are often small, they are typically used to help pediatric patients. But 14 percent of donor units are large enough to help adults.

Whereas bone marrow transplant recipients need a near perfect blood and tissue match, cord blood transplants only require a partial match.

“Cord blood is better tolerated and if we can increase the diversity of our cord blood registry, we can offer transplantation not only for more Americans, but for more successful transplantation as well,” Dr. Michael Boo, with the National Marrow Donor Program.

The program at Womack is the first of its kind in the United States. Other military hospitals across the country are expected to follow.

The program is voluntary and free. The families are approached about the donor program during prenatal visits. They have to meet certain health requirements, and blood from the cord and placenta are tested for diseases.