Having a Baby, Saving Lives
The Byproducts of Birth Can Be Saved in Case of Illness, or Used to Aid in a Plethora of Medical Conditions
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The birth of a baby is no longer the gift of just a single life.
Recent advances in medical technology have made it possible to use blood from the umbilical cord and other tissue to treat a broadening range of medical conditions, from cancer to eye injuries. One birth can extend, maybe even save, the lives of dozens of other people.
Through services available in Tallahassee, parents can bank this material in case their own children need it later in life, or donate it to help a stranger survive a medical crisis. The procedure is simple and painless and only uses material that would otherwise be discarded as medical waste.
“It’s pretty amazing that cord blood has something in it that can save people’s lives,” said Dr. William Slayton, a pediatric oncologist at Shands Hospital in Gainesville who has used birth material to treat children from the Tallahassee area. “It’s full of these life-sustaining cells.”
The Materials of Life
There are two basic types of material from a birth that can be used later to treat illnesses and injuries.
Cord blood contains stem cells that migrate to the bone marrow, where they mature and produce red and white blood cells and platelets.
Eventually, stem cells move out of the marrow and into the bloodstream. All human bodies contain stem cells; cord blood cells are immature and easier to transplant because there is less risk of rejection.
“They will find their way into somebody’s bone marrow and produce blood for the life of the patient,” Slayton said.
The amniotic membrane is the part of the placenta that protects and nourishes a fetus prior to birth.
The placenta typically is discarded after birth, but the membrane contains collagen, protein and growth factors with significant regenerative properties, said David Hill, CEO of telaGen LLC, a Tallahassee-based placenta donation coordinator.
That tissue can be processed into grafts that aid the healing process.
“They help the body get better faster by giving the body more of the material it needs,” Hill said.
Blood in the Bank
The collection and storage of birth material is a straightforward process.
Mark Locascio, CEO of MiracleCord in Chicago, said patients complete a health history questionnaire and an informed consent form, then the company ships a collection kit directly to them.
When the mom-to-be goes into labor, she takes the collection kit to the hospital with her and lets the doctor know to collect the cord blood. Once it’s collected, a medical courier service picks up the cord blood and transports it to a storage facility, where it’s cryogenically frozen, Locascio said.
The cost is about $1,200 to $2,000 for the initial collection, then about $125 to $175 a year for storage.
Tallahassee mom Cameron Ulrich heard about cord-blood banking from a friend — who worked at Cord Blood Registry — when she was pregnant with her daughter in 2007.
“It just hit home, being a first-time new mom,” she said. “This made a lot of sense to me.”