Kit helps mothers tap valuable cord blood

(Stem Cells News image)

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...
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DURHAM — To donate the stem cell-rich umbilical cord blood produced during the birth of her daughter, Jaime Feaster of Lake Charles, La., would have had to drive more than two hours to the nearest hospital equipped to collect it.

That’s a long way to go when you’re in labor.

Instead, Feaster turned to a fledgling Duke University Medical Center program that provides collection kits to mothers and their doctors. When Feaster’s daughter, Kadee, arrived last month, the cord blood was collected, packaged and quickly shipped to a blood bank at no cost to Feaster and with minimal commitment of time and expertise from her doctor.

Duke doctor Joanne Kurtzberg wants to replicate Feaster’s experience on a large scale.

Kurtzberg hopes that an easier donation process will trigger a surge in donations of blood cells so valuable they’ve been used to reverse and even cure otherwise fatal disorders. The current cord blood supply can’t keep up with the demand for its use in treating leukemia, sickle cell disease and other blood disorders, and the nation’s hospital infrastructure isn’t set up to tap even a fraction of the potential donors.

Kurtzberg, a pediatrics professor who has pioneered the use of umbilical cord stem cells to treat cancer and genetic disorders in children, believes the kits can spur donations. She’s part of a one-year test program financed by the National Marrow Donor Program to develop, distribute and track their effectiveness. Duke is one of three participating blood bank sites, along with the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the Texas Cord Blood Bank in San Antonio.

Kurtzberg directs the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, a Duke initiative that trains medical personnel and provides resources to collect the valuable blood at seven hospitals across the state, including Rex Healthcare , Durham Regional Hospital and UNC Hospitals. Those are North Carolina’s only sites. Fewer than 200 hospitals nationwide do it.

It’s costly. Duke pays $750,000 a year to equip each of those sites to collect the blood. But if you don’t live near one of those sites, it’s tough to donate.

That’s where Kurtzberg’s new kit comes in. It is a temperature-controlled box sent to expectant mothers at no cost. It includes all required consent forms and all the materials required for the blood collection, along with vials to store samples of the mother’s blood, to be checked for infectious disease.

The kits cost $350 to $400 to make and are reusable (…)

This blood changes lives. It is rich in stem cells, prized because they can build healthy cells and tissue and repair or replace dead or damaged cells (…)

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