15 September 2008
ByAppeared in BioNews 475
The UK's Antony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust this week launched a new initiative - the Antony Nolan Cord Blood Bank and a combined stem cell research centre at Nottingham Trent University. Mothers who deliver babies at the Kings College Hospital, London, are being recruited to donate the stem cells from their umbilical cord blood (UCB) to the public bank.
Recruitment typically takes place during anti-natal sessions at the hospital and has been met with a favourable response amongst mothers-to-be. It is anticipated that by 2012, up to 50,000 cord blood units will be stored for transplantation and research purposes. The charity's Chief Executive, Dr Steve McEwan, said, 'the beauty of this new programme will not only be to save the lives of hundreds more patients but also provide researchers the opportunity to develop innovative new treatments using cord blood'.
Although Kings College Hospital was chosen for the wide demographic mix of its population and is the first to contribute to the scheme, it is hoped that the initiative will be expanded over the next few years to include 10 collection centres. The new scheme will run in addition to hospitals already collecting on behalf of the NHS Cord Blood Bank. The charity, however, still needs to raise 27 million pounds through fundraising to support the scheme.
UCB stem cells have been shown to be a powerful alternative to bone marrow in the treatment of blood disorders such as thalassaemia, immunodeficiency, inherited metabolic diseases, aplastic anaemia and acute leukaemia and provides hope to those who are unable to find a suitable bone marrow match from the registries. The cells, which are routinely discarded as a waste product, are collected from the umbilical cord at the moment of birth in a relatively pain and risk-free procedure compared to the procurement of bone marrow, which is an aggressive and invasive process.
Furthermore, research has shown that UCB stem cells may in the long term play a significant role in cell therapy and regenerative medicine and additional studies using animals indicate that they possess the potential to improve cardiac function, treat diseases of the central nervous system, and brain injury, including stroke. The use of cord blood and the new centre have been hailed by consultant haematologist, Professor Ghulam Mufti, as 'an exciting and rapidly moving' part of medicine.
The new centre was opened by Health Secretary, Alan Johnson who said, 'cord blood offers further potential to change and save lives. Collected, processed and stored at birth, it becomes part of a global life saving resource'. He added, 'the Anthony Nolan Trust is already acclaimed worldwide, and the impact of the events here today will be felt globally. The complex will provide a lifeline for thousands complementing the 12 years experience of the NHS Cord Blood Bank and reinforce the UK's role as a research centre of excellence'. Camilla Judge, age 33, from East Dulwich became the first mother to donate her baby's cord blood to the bank.