Hoping to collect a wider variety of potentially life-saving stem cells, a state committee wants to launch a public umbilical-cord blood collection program by the end of the year.
Under the plan, Connecticut mothers who have just delivered babies could opt to donate their post-birth umbilical cord and placenta to a public blood bank. The donated cord blood, which is rich with stem cells, could be extracted and then transplanted into someone with a deadly disease, possibly saving that person’s life.
Cord blood transplants have been used to treat bone marrow cancers, such as leukemia and multi myeloma; and genetic diseases, such as sickle cell anemia.
Similar to a blood drive, donors would not get any direct benefit from the donation except perhaps the satisfaction of helping someone. “It’s an altruistic thing to do,” said Dr. Edward Snyder, professor of lab medicine at Yale University. He is chairman of the Connecticut Cord Blood Collection Program Committee, which is developing the program.
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta, which are usually discarded as medical waste after the birth. Through the collection program, the blood would be drained into a special collection bag similar to one used during a blood drive.
The collection process has nothing to do with embryos or embryonic stem cells, but is simply leftover blood that would otherwise be discarded, said committee member Dr. Winston Campbell, professor and interim chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the UConn Health Center.
The project currently has no state funding. But State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who proposed the legislation to create the public cord-blood collection program, said he will seek a $250,000 grant from a foundation to launch it. After that initial seed money, he said he hopes the program will pay for itself through proceeds from the sale of the cord blood to a transplant center.
Any proceeds would be used to help pay for the Connecticut collection program and for research.
The committee is just beginning to work on logistics, Snyder said.
Initially, the committee plans to arrange to collect cord blood at two main sites in the state — likely Hartford Hospital and Yale-New Haven Hospital. Each hospital handles at least 4,000 deliveries a year and serves a range of racial and ethnic groups, which could expand the pool of potential matches, Campbell said. Eventually, the committee hopes to collect donated cord blood at smaller hospitals as well.
Cord blood collected in Connecticut would be transported to a cord blood bank located out of state. The bank would store the blood frozen in liquid nitrogen, and it would become part of an international donor pool, Snyder said.
The cords would be evaluated and classified by Human Leucocyte Antigen type by a national transplant center. A patient who needed a transplant would contact the national center, which would then do a search to try to find a match. If a match is found, the center would arrange to send the cord blood to a stem-cell transplant center.
Some of the cord blood collected in Connecticut could also be used for research at medical schools. If the blood collected falls below a minimum quantity needed for transplant, it would be used for stem cell research instead, Snyder said.
Donors would not be able to use their own cord blood because of the nature of a public cord blood bank. Their donation could end up helping someone in another state. And if the Connecticut donor needed a cord donation herself someday, it could come from someone else in the United States or even overseas.
New parents can still opt to store their own cord blood for use by their own families, but they would have to go through private cord blood banks for that. The bank would freeze and store their cord blood for an initial fee and annual maintenance fees.
But the chances of a family needing a cord blood transplant are slim. Only about 10 percent of families actually ever need this stored blood, Campbell said. However, it could be useful if the family has a history of bone marrow cancers or certain genetic diseases, he said.