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A new kit-based umbilical cord blood pilot donation program under way at Duke University Medical Center could significantly expand options for mothers who want to donate their baby’s cord blood to a public bank.

“Right now, there are fewer than 200 hospitals in the United States designated as collection sites for mothers who want to donate their baby’s cord blood to a public bank,” says Joanne Kurtzberg, MD, professor of pediatrics at Duke and director of the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank (CCBB), a public bank. “We simply need more. Cord blood cells are increasingly seen as a valuable resource, and we are seeing a pressing need for more cord blood donation, especially among Asian and African-American mothers and those with mixed ethnic backgrounds.”

Umbilical cord blood stem cells, normally discarded after birth, have the ability to grow and develop into various types of cells throughout the body. They can be harvested after birth and stored for future transplantation in patients with many types of cancer and blood disorders, and increasingly, in other diseases as well.

In addition to Duke, two other sites are participating in the program, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the Texas Cord Blood Bank in San Antonio. All three sites are members of the National Cord Blood Inventory’s public banking network of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program and are coordinating their efforts through the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).

Donated cord blood will be listed on the NMDP’s Be The Match Registry and will be made available to patients with diseases that can be treated with transplantation.

“Research shows that many more mothers would donate their baby’s cord blood if given the opportunity,” says Michael Boo, chief strategy officer for the NMDP. “This pilot program may uncover a successful way to allow more expecting parents to donate, providing hope to more patients.”

Expectant mothers interested in donating cord blood through the program need to call one of the sites at least six weeks before their baby is due. Eligible donors must be 18 years old or older and be pregnant with a single baby. A coordinator will pre-screen applicants to see if they are eligible to become donors, asking questions about age and any history of HIV, cancer, hepatitis, malaria, organ or tissue transplant, sexually transmitted diseases, and tattoos and body piercing.

There is no charge to the mother for the kit or for donating her cord blood through the kit program.

Participants need to inform their physician or midwife of their intention to donate through the kit program. The physician or midwife must successfully complete an online training and certification in cord blood collection through the NMDP.

Participating moms will be sent a kit prior to their due date and will take the kit to the hospital upon admission for delivery. The doctor or midwife will collect the cord blood after the baby is born. The cord blood must be packed and shipped back to one of the three participating sites and must be received within 40 hours of the infant’s delivery.

The kit itself is specially designed to protect the cord blood in transit. Duke’s bright red box is temperature-controlled and contains an informed consent, a medical history questionnaire, and forms to be filled out at the hospital. It also contains everything needed for the cord blood collection, plus additional vials to store some of the mother’s blood that will be tested for infectious disease.

“We are enthusiastic about this program because if it successful, it could potentially be expanded to additional hospitals nationwide,” says Kurtzberg.

Kurtzberg, who is also director of Duke’s Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, is internationally recognized for her trailblazing work in cord blood stem cell therapies.  She provided care for the first person ever to receive a cord blood transplant and was the first in the world to perform an unrelated cord blood transplant.

Mothers interested in donating their baby’s cord blood to a participating public bank may contact the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank Public Kit Collection Program by calling 919-668-2071 (daytime only).

To reach the M.D. Anderson coordinator, call 713-563-8000.

To reach the Texas Cord Blood Bank coordinator, dial 800-292-5534; option 7.

For more information about public cord blood donation and the National Marrow Donor Program, visit BeTheMatch.org or call 1-800-MARROW-2.

Hear Dr. Kurtzberg talk about cord blood and the kit program