Pregnant women should keep in mind that donating their umbilical cord blood could save lives, a clinical cell therapy expert says.
Cord blood is the blood collected from the umbilical cord and placenta after the birth of a healthy baby, said Fabio Triolo. He is director of the Cellular Therapy Core laboratories at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Cord blood can be used to treat patients with blood diseases -- such as leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell disease -- who require a life-saving stem cell transplant.
Researchers are also investigating other types of cord blood-based treatments for conditions such as cerebral palsy and congenital diaphragm disease.
It can be difficult to find donor matches for patients, so blood banks need new mothers to donate their cord blood so more patients can receive treatment.
Cord blood donated to a public bank is processed, typed and tested to ensure it's free from infection, genetic and/or blood and metabolic disorders. It's then listed in a registry, available for transplants, Triolo explained in a university news release.
Cord blood that isn't suitable for transplant is used for research or discarded. In the United States, less than half of cord blood collected is suitable for transplant, usually because of inadequate volume and cell number.
Not all women who deliver a baby are eligible to donate, Triolo noted.
For example, women who have had any type of cancer are ineligible to donate. So are women who have had an organ or tissue transplant within the last 12 months.
Women who have twins also can't donate cord blood. This is because each umbilical cord has different tissue types and there's a risk that the two cord blood units could be mixed up during collection, Triolo explained.