Cord Blood Saves Lives, Mothers Told

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017 12:00 am   3 min read

Dr. Michele Fox, Medical Director of the Cord Blood Bank of Arkansas.

Dr. Michele Fox is working to get the word out about the importance of mothers donating their children’s umbilical cord blood.

Six years ago, Fox opened the state’s first cord blood bank on the campus of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Fox, medical director of the Cord Blood Bank of Arkansas, didn’t know at first whether people would donate cord blood mostly for themselves, the public or for research. “What has happened is that we have seen the overwhelming number of people prefer to donate for public use to save somebody else’s life.”

Cord blood cells harvested after the birth of a healthy child can be used in blood marrow transplants, and they offer the possibility of repairing injured organs or treating neurological disorders such as autism.

Fox said one of the challenges the Cord Blood Bank faces, however, is informing pregnant women about donating. Most OB-GYNs don’t bring up the option of donating cord blood, Fox said. “I would like them to, but the only ones who currently do are the ones who trained at UAMS,” she said.

In addition, many hospitals aren’t equipped to collect cord blood, said Alan Leahigh, chief executive officer of the Cord Blood Association of Geneva, Illinois. “Usually a hospital has to have a contract with a public bank and arrangements made to receive the cord blood and get it to the bank,” he said.

About 4 million babies are born in the United States each year, and cord blood is collected in less than 5 percent of the births, according to the association’s website. In Arkansas, the number of women who enrolled for public donation fell from 151 in 2015 to 119 a year later.

Collecting the blood is also a challenge, Fox said. Even when the cord blood is donated, it may not be usable. In the Cord Blood Bank’s first year it banked only about 10 percent of the donations, she said.

Fox said she and some obstetricians have developed a residency training program to improve collection. “We’ve been able to show that providing hands-on training as we do here has a real beneficial effect,” she said.

The Cord Blood Bank now banks about 30 percent of the public cord blood donated, Fox said. “And that’s as good as any other cord blood bank has ever done in this country or elsewhere,” she said.

There’s no fee for mothers who donate cord blood for public use. The cord blood is stored similarly to blood at a blood bank and can be used by anyone who might need it for medical care.

Cord blood that a mother stores with the Cord Blood Bank of Arkansas for her child or her family’s private use carries an initial fee of $1,399, which covers the cost of the collection kit, processing and the first year of storage. The storage fee after the first year is $120 annually.

The Cord Blood Bank of Arkansas has 167 private units in storage and 62 public units. It also has 84 donated units for three researchers in Arkansas who are studying regeneration of cardiac cells in lab settings, Fox said.

The Cord Blood Bank’s revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30 was $181,506, down 15.8 percent from the previous year. Its expenses for the most recent fiscal year were $180,645 compared with $205,528 for fiscal 2016.

Fox said the Cord Blood Bank is studying the best ways to get its message out so more mothers will donate.

“If they don’t choose to donate, then the cord blood is considered medical waste,” Fox said. “And it’s gone after the birth.”

 

 

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