Friday, October 17, 2008

Magee-Womens lauds cord-blood program

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

A program at Magee-Womens Hospital that collects stem cell-rich umbilical cord blood, which could be used to treat about 70 diseases including leukemia, is off to an encouraging start in its first year, officials from collection programs said Wednesday.

At a conference attended by nearly 100 hospital officials curious about the painless way to collect stem cells, Magee-Womens announced that its program is on track to meet its goal of collecting donations from 10 percent of the women who gave birth at the Oakland hospital this year.

"I think 10 percent is acceptable," said Kathy Mueckl, nurse coordinator of St. Louis Cord Blood Bank, the second-most active public-cord blood bank in the world behind New York Blood Center's program. "It's much better to start slow and try to get your initial program at your first hospital under control."

Cord blood is what remains in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. The blood contains stem cells, which can be coaxed into growing into different types of tissue or blood cells. It has been used to treat leukemia and sickle-cell anemia, and researchers say they believe it has potential to treat more diseases, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

"The nice thing about umbilical stem cells is that there's no ethical debate about them," said Dr. John Fisch, a Magee-Womens obstetrician. "And some patients need to be educated that these aren't fetal cells -- this is OK with all the religious bodies out there. I think once the word gets out, there it will be almost like an exponential growth."

The Dan Berger Cord Blood Program at Magee-Womens is a public-private bank, meaning that mothers can donate to the public or pay about $2,000 up front and $200 annually to store their baby's blood, in case they need it in the future. The odds that a baby will need his or her blood are 1 in 3,000, Fisch said.

So far this year, 764 moms have donated cord blood at Magee-Womens -- 191 of them private and 584 public. About 10,000 babies are born at the hospital annually.

Not all collections are successful, however, either because the mother is sick or there aren't enough stem cells in the blood to make storing them worthwhile, said Mary Wiegel, coordinator of the Berger program. Nationally, about 25 percent of collections are successful.

"Magee runs at about 35 to 40 percent success rate, so we're already ahead here," Wiegel said.

Cord blood from other programs has helped 41 children at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in the past seven years, including Joshua Marshall, 7, of Portersville in Butler County.

Marshall was born with a rare disorder that left him without an immune system. On Dec. 31, 2001, he received a little more than 1 ounce of umbilical-cord blood stem cells at Children's. The cells created an immune system for him."

I just can't believe that more people don't donate," said his mother, Debbie Marshall. "I mean it's free, and they'll just be thrown away otherwise. Why not give them to save a life?"

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