Cord Blood Bank :: Cord Blood Bank Receives $9 Million Grant

In a move that could dramatically increase the nation’s supply of stem cells for transplantation, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), part of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently awarded a $9 million grant to the cord blood bank at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

The three-year grant will fund the collection, processing and storage of umbilical cord blood at M. D. Anderson to be entered in the National Cord Blood Inventory (NBCI).

“This grant will allow our program to grow substantially and make a huge impact on the number of cord blood units available for transplantation,” say Elizabeth Shpall, M.D., professor in the Department of Blood and Marrow Transplantation and director of M. D. Anderson’s cord blood bank.

M. D. Anderson’s cord blood bank, established in April 2005, has collected more than 1,900 cords to date through partnerships with the Woman’s Hospital of Texas and Ben Taub General Hospital. Currently umbilical cords are collected from volunteer maternity donors 24 hours per day Mondays through Fridays at these sites. The additional funding will allow M. D. Anderson to increase its staff at each site to collect umbilical cords 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are also plans to add a third collection site in the Houston area.

Bone marrow transplantation, which replaces a patient’s diseased blood cells with healthy cells from a volunteer donor, has been the standard of care for selected high-risk patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening blood disorders. In recent years umbilical cords have emerged as a rich and plentiful source of stem cells for transplantation.

Successful transplants of cord blood stem cells also replace a patient’s diseased blood cells with healthy ones, but require a less precise tissue type match between the donor and recipient than do bone marrow transplants. This makes finding matches easier and reduces the wait some patients experience. Another benefit is fewer complications associated with graft-versus-host disease since cord blood stem cells are less mature than bone marrow stem cells.

The HRSA has a goal of collecting 150,000 new units of high quality cord blood from diverse populations, including minority populations. The program has a specific goal to collect more than 60 percent of these donations from minorities, according to Shpall.

“Our program will be a great asset to the National Cord Blood Inventory in part because of Houston’s diverse ethnic population,” says Shpall.

Historically, minorities have been the least able to find suitable matches among adult bone marrow donors because fewer minorities register as potential donors. Collecting more umbilical cords from minorities will boost chances for more matches for minority patients on transplant waiting lists.

In 2003, before M. D. Anderson began cord blood stem cell transplants, only 25 percent of stem cell transplant recipients at the institution were minorities, says Shpall. In 2004, when M. D. Anderson began using cord blood stem cells, that figure increased to 59 percent.

The HRSA funded five other cord blood banks, in addition to M. D. Anderson, including the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank Program at Duke University Medical Center, the Milstein National Cord Blood Program at the New York Blood Center, StemCyte, the University of Colorado Cord Blood Bank and the Puget Sound Blood Center.

Since the first successful cord blood stem cell transplant was performed in 1988 in France, more than 8,000 cord blood stem cell transplants have been performed worldwide.

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