06 February 2012
ByAppeared in BioNews 643
'The UK is lagging behind other countries in its development of public cord blood banking', Labour MP Mark Tami, chair of the APPG, said. 'We hope our report will add new impetus to the Government's national plan for cord blood, and save the lives of 200 or more people each year who currently have no hope at all'.
The report endorses the findings of the UK Stem Cell Strategic Forum (SCSF), which in 2010 made recommendations aimed at increasing the number of stem cell transplants in the UK. It calls on the SCSF to determine the location of 13 cord blood collection hospitals to increase total donations to meet demand for transplants, outlined in its 2010 proposals. The report also stresses the importance of research and training to ensure the collection of blood is done as safely as possible for both the mother and baby.
Cord blood, which contains stem cells, is taken from the umbilical cord and placenta following the birth of a baby and can be used instead of bone marrow in the treatment of blood cancers such as leukaemia. At present, most cord blood is discarded after birth as clinical waste and there are few centres that collect donated blood. A recent nationwide survey found that 85 percent of women would donate cord blood so long as it had no impact on themselves or their baby, showing widespread public support for the aims of the APPG report.
Last year, the UK imported more than 80 percent of cord blood units used for transfusion because there was either no cord blood available or no matching donor. The lack of cord blood donors is especially acute for people from Asian, black, mixed race or other ethnic backgrounds and one of the targets of the report is to increase donations from these groups.
The Department for Health has granted £4 million to the bodies responsible for managing the UK's public cord banks. NHS Blood and Transplant and the Anthony Nolan Trust hope to increase the adult donor register and ensure that cord blood bank reaches 50,000 donation units. This could provide transplants for 85 percent of patients who require a stem cell transplant, but for whom there is currently no donor to match their needs.
The importance of cord blood banking was stressed by Professor Sir Mike Richards, the National Clinical Director for Cancer for the Department for Health. 'The development of cord blood banking has been an area of rapid development and intense international cooperation', he said. 'More than 20,000 cord blood transplants have been reported worldwide and more than 400,000 cord blood units have been stored in over 100 banks. Cord blood is now being used to treat more than 70 life threatening illnesses, and research is showing it also has huge promise for regenerative medicine, including therapies to treat spinal cord conditions and Parkinson's disease'.