Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Isle cord blood bank is a lifeline for patients

Hat tip to Ingrid

By Helen Altonn

Hawaii parents have given 10 mainland and international patients a second chance at life with stem cells collected from the umbilical cord after their babies were born.

Umbilical donors
Parents who want to donate umbilical cord blood to the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank after their baby is delivered can obtain more information and sign up as a donor by calling 983-BANK (2265) or see

"It's pretty cool, I think," said Dr. Randal Wada, molecular biologist and bone marrow transplant surgeon, who founded the nonprofit Hawaii Cord Blood Bank in 1998. "This is stuff that would have been thrown away."

Wada joined the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii in 1996 after performing the first cord blood transplant at UCLA Medical Center, on an 8-year-old boy with leukemia. He worked with the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children to establish a Hawaii Cord Blood Bank.

He said the 10th match recently was made to a patient from Hawaii's stored cord blood cells although the inventory of about 550 units is small.

"Of the ones we got feedback on, patients are doing fine," he said. "About half of them are adults."

Cord blood banks fluctuate from 1 percent to 2 percent utilization of inventory, depending on size, and the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank has about 1 percent utilization, Wada said.

Even though Hawaii's inventory is small, most of the cord blood units represent minority donors, he said. "That part is significant because it definitely fills a niche not being served by other places."

Umbilical cords usually are discarded, but they contain the same kind of life-giving stem cells as bone marrow to treat patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other potentially fatal blood diseases.

Stem cells can develop into different cell types and serve as "a repair system" for the body when transplanted to replace a patient's unhealthy blood cells, says the National Institutes for Health.

A cord blood unit contains stem cells from one umbilical cord. Units are being collected through efforts of more than 100 Oahu obstetricians and nursing staffs at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, Kaiser Medical Center, the Queen's Medical Center and Tripler Army Medical Center.

Wada is medical director of the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry at St. Francis Medical Center and of the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank. Lynette Matsumoto is coordinator of the Cord Blood Bank, and Lisa Wong-Yamamoto, Kapiolani labor and delivery nurse, is a nurse educator.

"I can't say enough about them," Wada said, adding that the medical community is enthusiastic about the program.

The Blood Bank of Hawaii transports the cells to the Puget Sound Blood Center in Seattle where they are processed, stored and entered into the National Marrow Donor Program's cord blood database. They are available to any patient seeking a match.

Wada said the 10 matches with Hawaii umbilical cord blood cells "show that we're all tied together. ... We're all part of the same family. That's very satisfying to me."

The Hawaii Cord Blood Bank is one of several dozen in the country. "This is a kind of key time in the history of this," Wada said, because of legislation establishing a national cord blood bank program.

Hawaii can now apply through the Puget Sound Blood Center to the National Cord Blood Bank for funding from $10 million attached to the bill, he said. The money is to go to all member cord blood banks to help them increase their inventories, he said.

"To me it just feels good. This is one of those times we've been ahead of the curve," Wada said. "In 1996-97 we started thinking maybe we ought to start saving this stuff, and now in an act by Congress, it's a good thing."

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